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The Parks Commission voted Tuesday to close off the Springside Park pavilion for drop-off donations for a homeless encampment in the park.

Pittsfield Parks Redirect Springside Park Donations

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Parks Commission approved a draft statement on Tuesday that would redirect donations for the homeless in Springside Park toward service providers.
The commission voted to eliminate onsite donations at the Springside Avenue pavilion effective Aug. 24.
"I will be the first to admit that this community has been so gracious, so kind, and has really mobilized around this issue," Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath said. "... To the point of almost too many donations, and there are issues around this goodwill gesture." 
With the closing of the temporary homeless shelter at the former St. Joseph's High School, an influx of homeless residents have made Springside Park their home this summer.
McGrath brought forth a draft statement based on conversations with the commission, service providers, and the city mostly outlining the Parks Department’s position on the matter.
He had said previously that the department will follow the city's lead in taking a hands-off approach and allow the homeless to utilize the parks. 
Although the homeless will be allowed continued use of the park, McGrath asked Tuesday to limit the use of the Springside Avenue pavilion that has become a makeshift donation drop-off area. 
"That part of the park is really not designed to be used that way, and it is really becoming problematic," he said. "Through this statement, we have advocated in how to respond to what we are seeing there." 
Commissioner Joe Durwin said the lack of organization has caused somewhat of a disaster at the park. While he acknowledged that these individual donations have perhaps saved lives, the site has become oversaturated with donations. Many of these donations do not go to those in the most need.
McGrath agreed and said donations come in the form of supplies, gift cards, and food. They are dropped off on picnic tables under the pavilion, and anyone and everyone is able to sort through the selection.
The city and service providers would prefer to direct donations through ServiceNet, which can distribute properly. Also, McGrath saw an opportunity to inform the homeless population of opportunities throughout the city such as food sites and other resources.
He thought this could be accomplished with a bulletin board.
Durwin said he was hesitant to completely eliminate food deliveries on site.
"I don't know if it's always going to be beneficial to expect that a population with a diverse range of issues, living in a destabilizing situation will always be equipped to huff it around town two to three miles a day to meal sites," he said. 
Durwin also advocated a more coordinated approach in terms of services and felt like those working to help the homeless were not always working together.
Furthermore, people not affiliated with an agency are stepping up to help. He said while this is considerate, it may not be the best approach and that many of the homeless are dealing with trauma.
"We are dealing with a traumatized population with a range of different issues," he said. "So it has to be a trauma-informed response. People wandering in off the street will not always be prepared for that."
McGrath agreed and said city officials are not an expert in the matter and are in constant contact with the various service agencies.
"We are not equipped to deal with the real needs that the homeless population requires, but our office for years has been a partner," he said. "We have the experience, but we do not have all of the answers." 
The commissioners agreed that allowing the pavilion to be used until Aug. 31 was too long and set a new sunset date of Aug. 24. They also agreed to strike language that would limit gathering at the pavilion. 
"While I don't advocate that the park be used for a campground this is obviously an unusual year," Commissioner Simon Muil said. "My thought is that I don't like the use of the pavilion for people to provide donations. I think it would be more efficient to move them through an agency." 
The vote was 3-1 with Durwin in opposition. 
McGrath said the department will formalize this statement but indicated donations would still be able to be made at the Barton's Crossing homeless shelter.
Chairman Anthony DeMartino spoke to the encampments in general and noted although the homeless typically do take up residence in Springside Park in the summer, it has never been at this level.
McGrath added that there are about a dozen people living in the park, mostly north of the pond, but it was at one point around 50. He said he expects the number to continue to drop as summer moves into fall.
DeMartino said the city's accommodations have not been without challenges and cited reports of increased drug and alcohol use in the parks and also indicated that there may have been firearms present.
"We have always been compassionately tolerant," he said. "This summer and the circumstances surrounding it have shed new light on this." 
The commissioners all agreed that the park is not a permanent solution for the homeless.

Tags: homeless,   parks commission,   

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Pittsfield's Former Polish Club Eyed For $20 Million Condo Project

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With a sizable grant from the state, the former Polish Community Club is eyed for a 40-unit housing development that adds four additional buildings to the property.

On Wednesday, the Affordable Housing Trust heard from developer Robert Shan about the project that could cost as much as $20 million.  Planners are vying for $10 million through the MassHousing CommonWealth Builder Program created to facilitate the construction of single-family homes and condominiums affordable to households with moderate incomes.

"We're looking not just to do a one-off but to have a presence in Pittsfield, a presence in Berkshire County, and look to bring forward attainable and affordable housing to many communities," he said.

"We see this as as as the first step and it's ready to go. We've put a tremendous amount of work into it and we're looking forward to being able to work with you."

While utilizing the former club, the plot at 55 Linden Street would have five buildings of one to three-bedroom condominiums for first-time homebuyers.  The final costs have not yet been determined but it is estimated that a unit for those of the 80 percent area median income will cost between $150,000 and $200,000 and those in between 80 and 100 percent AMI will cost between $190,000 and $250,000.

The proposed condos are single-story units with an entrance from the street with the first-floor units having a private fenced backyard.  The existing building is staged for single-story condos and two-story townhouses.

Planners aim to bring the character of the 1872 structure into the new construction through colors and architectural elements.

"In developing housing for first-time buyers, we wanted a form that all had entries from grade, from outside without common corridors, without elevators to get that feeling of homeownership," Shan explained.

"While we can't afford to build and get these first-time families at the single-family homes, we wanted a hybrid product that really felt and operated like a home where a lot of the units have backyards, is its own community, etc. So in that, we have not maximized the density."

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