PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Co-Act and other area human service organizations are moving forward with a plan to open a day center for the homeless at the United Methodist Church on Fenn Street. According to Co-Act Director Paul Deslaurier, the day center will open on February 3 and will be open from roughly 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. two days a week.
"There's a lot happening in terms of the day center," he said in a phone interview. "Anyone who needs support can come during the day and use the resources there. We're having a training for intakers and greeters on February 1 and then on the third, that will be our dry run. We're trying to coordinate with other facilities and existing organizations which offer meals and services and shelter. We're trying to find the best way to address and support the needs that people have."
These needs have increased as the temperature drops to brutal lows and the state unemployment rate stays steady.
"There are about 20 people here who are chronically homeless and who, for one reason or another, have been blackballed from the shelters here. Sometimes they can hang out at Dunkin' Donuts or the library, or maybe the hospital corridors," Deslaurier said. "This number does not include people who are in shelters and trying to stay clean, people who are couch hopping or living four to six families to an apartment and people who are living in their cars."
The day center will offer basic literacy and computer support and training as well as access to other support services in the area. It will be staffed by trained volunteers including retired social workers, college students studying social services as well as an intake clinician. Yet even in its intitial phases, he said that he knows that more is needed, especially from the city itself.
"We have 14 organizations that are participating in this effort. We're really drawing on the support of the faith-based community," he said. "This kind of collaboration has been uplifting. Unfortunately, I've been very disappointed in my city. In September I asked if there were some place they could propose that we could have a shelter. The mayor pointed me to the old prison on Second Street where we could only use the cell blocks in the basement. This was unacceptable. Where we are located is right across the street from City Hall. We're practically right in their face and there has been no support from the backdoor politicians. I've petitioned the city to pay for the utilities on the building, so far I haven't gotten a good response."
Utilities are not the only necessity required by the center, which Deslaurier and others had hoped to turn into an emergency night shelter as well. In addition to heating costs, the center (and possibly the shelter) also requires more volunteers, furniture, computers, printers and, of course, money.
"We are definitely going to need more staff and we need to be prepared for it to evolve," he said. "We have no funding and so we are reaching out to the community for help."
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