A new warming shelter for the unhoused has opened in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
For Pittsfield’s unhoused, the pandemic winter has been particularly harsh. With shelters closed to occupants until the evenings and indoor spaces largely closed due to coronavirus transmission fears, there have been few places to stay warm during the day. A new modular unit installed next to the Christian Center at 193 Robbins Avenue opened Tuesday, with hopes it will fill the gap.
“When we figured out that there was going to be a need this fall, the Christian Center – Karen and I looked at our empty lot and went, huh, could we do something here? And so we have,” said Christian Center Director Betsy Sherman.
Months after that conversation, Sherman thanked Pittsfield’s human services provider ServiceNet and the city for their help in making the grand opening possible.
The entrance to the gray building is framed by a pair of port-o-potties.
“When we first talked about the consultation space next door, because all the agencies that are meeting there were meeting out under our tent during the summer, we had up to six agencies meeting every Tuesday and Thursday to work with clients. So when that no longer – I mean, they were meeting there in 15 degree weather, we were housing them in the basement because it was so horrible, but they still had clients who are willing to meet,” explained Sherman.
Funding for the shelter came together between $30,000 and $50,000 in CARES Act money made available by Pittsfield through its community development block grant funding and private donations. Mayor Linda Tyer praised the work of the city’s department of community development in realizing the project.
“While this is a milestone for us, this is just one step along the journey of providing the best collaboration and partnership with community agencies who do this work in the field, and I look forward to being consistently beside them as we continue to work through all of the things that are important and necessary and vital to serve this community,” said the mayor.
Democratic State Senator Adam Hinds was also on hand.
“It takes a pandemic, unfortunately, for us to realize who we are as a society, and how we’re treating the most vulnerable among us and where the gaps are in our services,” he said.
A handful of people were already taking advantage of the shelter.
“This is like the safest place for us to keep safe and warm, for all the homeless people that’s outside on the street," said Elijah Davis. Originally from Arizona, he says he’s spending his nights at the emergency shelter run by ServiceNet at the former St. Joseph High School building.
“It’s lovely to see people in warm spots," he told WAMC. "It’s better than under bridges and on corners and all that.”
The opening comes after months of debate in Pittsfield over how to best provide for its unhoused population during the pandemic.
“I think it’s a fabulous thing happening in the community, long overdue," said Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio, who attended the ribbon cutting. “I mean we’re three months into the winter, and I would have liked to have seen it happen sooner, but we can’t change that. And the fact that it’s up and running now – it’s history in the making, so let’s hope moving forward that all the homeless take advantage of the situation and are welcomed here and the hours continue throughout the rest of the winter months.”
The plan is currently to keep the shelter open through May 15th. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and it offers snacks, services and clothing to anyone in need.