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Springside Park Inhabitants Say Pittsfield Has Renewed Removal Efforts

Three people stand in front of a tent village in the woods
Josh Landes
Springside Park inhabitants Paul, Michele Mathews and Dave Rossi stand in their encampment in June 2021.

Last winter, we brought you the story of a community of unhoused people living in a public park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Seven months later, they’re still there – despite renewed efforts from the city to remove them.

It was a long winter for the handful of Pittsfielders living in the makeshift village tucked into the woods of Springside Park.

“Oh, it was brutal," said Paul. "I'll give you that much, it was wicked brutal.”

Paul is one of the five people now calling the 240 acre park just north of downtown home. They opted to live outside in the spring of 2020 rather than face what they considered threatening conditions in city shelters when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Just living in that cold, negative degree weather all the time," he told WAMC. "Snow you have to dump off. No, nobody helped us. Imagine getting up at 4 o'clock or 3 o'clock or even earlier every morning to get the tent to get, just get, knock snow off your tent, you know, because you're afraid it's going to collapse on top and you freeze to death. You know? That's what these people don't understand. We don't have it easy out of here. They think we have an easy out here. We don't.”

When WAMC last visited the encampment, inhabitants were facing a deadline from Pittsfield to leave the park on December 1st. It came and went with no action from the city. Now, the Springsiders say representatives from the city, including Park, Open Space and Natural Resource Program Manager Jim McGrath, the sheriff’s department and area human services nonprofits are again pushing them to vacate.

“We don’t have options, and on Thursday, they told us they were wanting to take our stuff out of here and force us off the property. We have nowhere to go," said Michele Mathews. “That was nice for them to offer to help us. Where were they taking us? I don't know. They don't know. We've had two meetings. They said we had multiple meetings — two was not multiple, two is a couple. And the first meeting you suggested this. And on the second meeting, you said no, nothing happening, we can't help you. We're sorry, you’ve got to go.”

Pittsfield has installed a “no overnight camping” sign in the park on the path that leads to the encampment, which is now over a year old.

A sign that reads "no overnight camping"
Credit Josh Landes / WAMC

Mathews says the city is offering to pay their rents for a year if they can find living spaces elsewhere.

“You don't think that if I could find an apartment, I wouldn’t take that deal?" she told WAMC. "Think about it. Free rent, a year? It’s just not happening like that. There's nothing out there. Then on top of that, when you say to them, what's your current address? Springside Park: that doesn't look so well to a landlord. Let's be honest. So, and because of COVID, landlords have started wanting to see that you have double to triple the amount of income coming in every month so that you're guaranteed to pay the rent. And I understand that, I get that. But some people, I can’t- I make $800 a month.”

“They really haven't given us much options. We talked about it. Talk, talk, talk, talk. That's all we did," said Paul. “But there are no results. And then like I said before, they come down here, like 9 o'clock this morning. All right, pack your shit, get out. You know, it’s like, OK, well, if you do that, where the hell are we going to go? Well, you got to figure that out.”

The city of Pittsfield canceled a scheduled WAMC interview with McGrath about this story, and provided the following written statement in lieu of a comment from McGrath or Mayor Linda Tyer:

“We continue to be actively engaged with the five individuals at Springside Park, by informing them of, as well as offering, assistance and a multitude of resources for the next steps ahead. This work is ongoing.”

For Mathews, who suffers from a variety of illnesses as well as a recent fracture from a bike accident, the idea of leaving the park is no more realistic now than it was in December.

“I don't understand how anyone, anyone can look themselves in the face in the morning when they know they just threw out 60-year-old people, just threw out 60-year-old homeless people that had nowhere to go so you just bullied them. This park does belongs to the city but I'm part of the city. How does it not belong to me too? I'm not wanting to live here. These aren’t houses, these are tents. It is very embarrassing to be in this situation. It’s embarrassing. My family, my family sees this. I have a lot of kids,” said Mathews, crying. "Sorry."

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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