Wilson Park is one of three housing projects that will have a 'community center.'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Housing Authority has freed up space in three of the city's public housing projects for a "community centers."
Mayor Daniel Bianchi has been pursuing the reopening of substations
operated by Police in Francis Plaza, Dower Square and Wilson Park and on Tuesday the mayor announced that the Housing Authority offered vacant units — one in each property — for the effort.
Police will use the units to establish a presence to address public safety concerns but the mayor hopes to extend that to include a variety of programs — from voter registration drives to health screenings to space for court-mandated supervised visits.
"This is a solid first step," said Bianchi in a prepared statement. "Many of the tenants in public housing do not have the ability to access services at City Hall or participate in other community initiatives. And while most of the people and families living there are law-abiding citizens, crime is generated by a minority of public housing residents. We believe a police presence at those locations will not only make all of the residents in public housing safer, it will enhance public safety for the entire city."
The Housing Authority is offering the space and will pay the utilities and once opened, officers will hold routine office hours. In the future, Bianchi hopes to pursue a grant to pay for a dedicated public housing presence.
“We want to be an active partner in promoting these kinds of programs," Housing Authority Executive Director Charles Smith said. “We know that our tenants will benefit if we make city services more accessible, while having a police presence will mean better communication with residents and a better quality of life. For the PHA, this will be a low-cost program that has the potential to be very impactful.”
The idea of opening the centers is one of the outcomes of the mayor's new Crime Task Force, which meets monthly and includes the District Attorney, the Police Chief and the Sheriff. The centers had worked previously and Bianchi wanted to bring them back.
Police Chief Michael Wynn said that PHA developments are already strategically located in neighborhoods where the police department already commits many resources.
"The department has a longstanding relationship with these communities that was previously manifested in neighborhood resource centers and sub-stations," the chief said. "Unfortunately, the loss of dedicated community policing grants in the mid-2000’s necessitated the closing of these facilities."
Other activities eyed for the centers include the Sheriff's Department initiating TRIAD programs there, both the Police and Sheriff's department sponsoring sports clinics for the youth and as a venue for the Pittsfield Promise.