Pittsfield Expediting Creation of Commission to Help Homeless
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City councilors are looking to expedite the development of a Homeless Committee so it is in place during the winter.
The City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee agreed on the conceptual outline of what such a committee will look like and Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo will work on the order reinstating the committee with the city solicitor. The goal is for the group featuring representatives from a number of community organizations to help those who are living on the streets of the city.
"My mission here is to take care of all of the people that are homeless here in Pittsfield," said Edward Carmel, who first petitioned for it in March.
Mazzeo and Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon sponsored Carmel's petition and for months -- which included a medical issue holding Carmel back a bit -- have been crafting the parameters.
The city had such a committee in the late 1980s but ultimately it fell by the wayside. The group has rewritten the ordinance, modernized the wording and eliminated references to organizations no longer in existence.
Carmel says many homeless people aren't going to go to service agencies and ask for help and he envisions this committee going to them. He believes it can serve a role in checking in with the homeless population and helping them with everything from food to health to finding shelter. Carmel has hopes of opening a complex to help serve those individuals but the first step is just establishing the committee.
"I have a mission to take care of the homeless people here in Pittsfield," Carmel, who knows the difficulties firsthand from the days when he was homeless in the city, said. "It is important for the homeless people to get everything they deserve."
However, Brad Gordon, executive director of Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, had previously penned a letter with concern that the group would be adding another level of bureaucracy to the issue. He wrote that there is a number of groups and committees focused on homelessness in the county and that adding more meetings and groups bogs down the process.
Carmel sees it differently. The former City Council candidate doesn't see it as an interference to what countywide agencies are providing but rather a group specifically for those homeless community members of Pittsfield.
Other groups in Pittsfield feel the same. Christian Center Assistant Director Deb Vall and Chairwoman of the West Side Neighborhood Initiative Linda Kelley both spoke to the Ordinance and Rules Committee in favor of revitalizing the Homeless Committee. They said the problem is a significant one in Pittsfield and needs help being addressed.
"It is not just people suffering from addiction or mental health issues. There are people who come who have lost their jobs. They were living paycheck to paycheck and lost their jobs and then lost their homes," Vall said, adding that there simply isn't enough shelter space for those who are homeless to spend a night.
Kelley said many people in the West Side are overcrowding apartments just to find shelter.
"This is not acceptable for a city. This is not acceptable for the people," she said.
Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless said there are currently 47 students identified as being homeless and he thinks that number will double by the end of the school year as staff identifies more students. And even then, he doesn't think the number will include every homeless student.
"It is a real issue. It is a real issue in schools," McCandless said. "We would just be honored to partner with the city in this work."
The Ordinance and Rules Committee supported the petition and agreed to move it to the City Council for approval. The only question came in who would be represented on the committee.
Mazzeo first suggested a 13-member committee to include representatives from the schools, the hospital, the Christian Center, Housing Authority, senior center, Salvation Army, the Brien Center or another mental-health provider, Servicenet, the Police Department, someone from city government, and somebody who had been homeless.
Chairman Peter White added that he'd like to see somebody from the Berkshire Dream Center and somebody who is an immigrant on the committee.
White also added that Justine Dodds in the city's Office of Community Development would be a good resource because each year the city spends part of its federal Community Development Block Grant funds toward housing. Last year CDBG funds helped 614 people with emergency shelter.
"This can be used as a way to focus specifically on Pittsfield but also work with what's there," White said of the role the re-established city committee could take.
With those organizations added to the list, Mazzeo and the rest of the committee agreed that 15 may be a better number. Carmel said he preferred a larger number to help ensure a quorum at meetings should a few people be unavailable.
The affirmative vote by the committee now puts it in Mazzeo's hands to finalize the order re-establishing it and bring it to the full City Council. The hope is that it can be in place in time for the winter.
Tags: homeless, O&R,
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