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New England News

Donation Secures Emergency Beds In Pittsfield

Jim Levulis

A donation of $45,000 from Berkshire Health Systems will secure overnight crisis beds in Pittsfield this winter. Mayor Dan Bianchi announced the money will be managed and distributed by ServiceNet, which operates six shelters, 250 transitional housing units and guides individuals to health care, employment and permanent housing options in Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire counties. ServiceNet took over Pittsfield’s Barton’s Crossing emergency shelter from the Berkshire Community Action Council in July. ServiceNet’s Jay Sacchetti says the money will support staffing for 10 additional beds at Barton’s Crossing this winter to go along with 10 others already added at another Pittsfield facility run by Solider On.

“Come late December, January, February I think we are going to find there are probably 15 or 20 people who have a chronic homeless issue,” Sacchetti said. “They just have burnt their bridges everywhere. If you focus on those people, because they tend to take up 80 percent of your service, and get those folks housed, then it becomes more manageable.”

Solider On operates homeless shelters and transitional housing units, primarily for veterans, in Pittsfield and Northampton. CEO Jack Downing says organizations providing services in Pittsfield have done a poor job of collecting data on those seeking help. Hard numbers on the area’s homeless are difficult to pinpoint because not much has been entered into the Homeless Management Information System operated by the federal government. ServiceNet is now the city’s data entry point for the program.

“So if you don’t get to ServiceNet…you’re sleeping in a church basement, you’re at my house on the porch or you’re at Soldier On and the police brought you and we don’t get to them, you’re undocumented,” Downing explained. “So those numbers have never been counted here. We’ve done a poor job of managing that. Service Net is new on the scene doing this here so I don’t want to include them in the mismanagement. For those of us that have been here, we were doing this thinking we were doing a good thing, and we are creating the constant problem of the crisis every year.”

Pittsfield Police Chief Mike Wynn says some people chose to be homeless and only seek help when they are unable to provide for themselves when temperatures drop below freezing.

“They may exist somewhere in a rural or wilderness portion of the community,” Wynn pointed out. “They take access of friends or other facilities to take care of their hygiene. They may still be working, but they are not what we would consider to be traditionally sheltered. That is something we are going to have to get better at getting a handle on because they still need government services. They still need to be policed, they still need to be protected, they still need access to EMS and we need to know where they are.”

Wynn says when a person wakes up in a homeless shelter, a case manager will be waiting to assist and document his or her needs. Brad Gordon is the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.

“So if we see that a lot of homelessness is driven by exclusively substance use for example, then what we need to do is we need to make certain we have more robust substance abuse services,” Gordon explained. “What we’ve seen is that the shelters and homelessness is a repository a lot of times for those other problems. So we want to be able to directly address those other problems here in the community.”

Seeking long-term solutions, Mayor Bianchi says he will approach state lawmakers with data collected from over the winter identifying the city’s homeless population and the underlying causes.

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