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Pittsfield Readies Beds For First Responders, Homeless

A long building with a real estate sign and a large trash container outside of it sits off a long sidewalk
Josh Landes
The building of the former St. Joseph High School on Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Berkshire County’s largest community is responding to the ever-changing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer says that the city of around 43,000 is securing housing for two populations in the coming week. The first are first responders.

“Over this weekend we were able to secure 35 hotel rooms in two different local hotels for first responders who may need quarantine or isolation, and that will allow for city of Pittsfield first responders as well as any community that has a mutual aid agreement with Pittsfield," said the mayor. "So for example, if a North Adams firefighter needs isolation or quarantine, they can take advantage of these arrangements that we have made here in Pittsfield.”

She says the city negotiated a $70 nightly rate with Best Western on West Housatonic Street and the Holiday Inn on West Street. Tyer says the costs, which will be paid out of Pittsfield’s contingency funds, will be reimbursed by the state or federal government.

“We have established very careful accounting practices where we are keeping a thorough record of all expenses associated with any work related to COVID-19 so that when the reimbursement programs are open we will be ready to submit our reimbursement requests,” she told WAMC.

The second housing effort will see the shuttered former St. Joseph High School – a private Catholic school on Maplewood Avenue that closed in 2017 – become a temporary homeless shelter for up to 70.

ServiceNet is coordinating the transformation of the school, which Tyer says could be open as soon as Monday. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield made the building available for the project, but made it clear to Tyer that it was a provisional donation.

“Their generosity is for the period of time during which we are confronted by this COVID-19 public health crisis, so when we all are back to our normal routines we will have to unwind the shelter and St. Joe’s will be back on the market as part of the diocese’s real estate.”

These efforts precede a coming surge in COVID-19 cases, which state officials say could mean a peak of hospitalizations in mid-April. On April 2nd, Governor Charlie Baker said confirmed cases of coronavirus could be between 47,000 to 172,000, and pegged the state’s fatality rate at 1.5%  — as many as 2,580 deaths.

Tyer still has her concerns about her city’s preparedness. Namely, the number of businesses that are continuing to operate in Pittsfield during the statewide closure of nonessential businesses that began March 23rd, “even though I think that their own definition of essential could be challenged,” said Tyer. “We have started to receive some inquiries from employees who work at these businesses. We have established an assessment protocol and we’re working with those businesses and to encourage them to close up shop.”

Tyer declined to name which businesses Pittsfield is attempting to convince to close.

“If the business chooses not to close on their own, then the Board of Health will issue an order requiring them to close," the mayor told WAMC. "These are not easy decisions for us to make, but we are on a mission to protect public health especially as we approach the surge.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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