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Pittsfield Homeless Committee Chairman Defends Efforts

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — While a new panel is being prepared to take over, the outgoing Homelessness Prevention Committee says it felt under attack by demands made on it from the City Council.  

The committee's Chairman Ed Carmel spoke at Tuesday's council meeting in defense of the work the committee had done even though information was being withheld from it. The administration said no information had been withheld. 

The council approved an amended ordinance earlier in the month creating a Homeless Advisory Committee that better clarifies the group's purpose, reporting requirements and advocacy for funding sources. Administrative support may be provided by the Office of Community Development.

Carmel's comments on Tuesday were in response to the four petitions referred to the committee from the Sept. 8 City Council meeting to provide reports on its productivity. The council unanimously sent the petitions signed by Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi and Councilor at Large Earl Persip demanding answers from the committee, which has met infrequently since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.

Carmel said the committee has been trying desperately to find higher ground to support the homeless and that it has been dumbfounded by some of the critiques because of the lack of information it is given.

"This is a committee that has to be run like a brand-new engine, it has to get worked and worked and worked and then at some point it will be like it's supposed to be," he said. "Until other entities share their information with us, we are dead in the water."

Persip asked Carmel why the committee can't make recommendations to City Council, as petitions can be put in to the council at any time.

"We don't know what key information you're missing and why you can't make recommendations," Persip said. "These petitions were put in in the first place to get this information, we were wondering why we haven't heard from this committee, why it wasn't meeting, and what it has done."

Persip stated that the council has asked for answers and still doesn't have any.

"This is not an attack," he said. "I don't want it to be an attack or sound like an attack. ...

"Going forward we have a new ordinance and I think it's the best thing to put this to bed for now and start fresh and hopefully get some positive information out of the new committee and recommendations."

Earlier this month, the homeless committee held a meeting where members answered what they considered redundant questions from council. Councilors, however, felt their questions weren't sufficiently answered.

The petitions requested a detailed list of programs for which the committee has advocated and members have engaged with these programs outside their own entities; a report on how it has monitored the homeless since being formed last year; the number of meetings held; and a report of the committee leaders and neighborhood service providers that it has collaborated with and if any viable solutions have been drafted by the committee.

The committee had reported it works with Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, ServiceNet, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Louison House, and the Christian Center among many other local organizations.  

Members of the committee also reported on the projects they have going on.  

The housing authority, Brien Center, Soldier On, and ServiceNet have been holding an an outreach meeting at the Christian Center two times a week to provide meals, materials, and services to homeless individuals as well as checking in on those who cannot be reached electronically

Katelynn Miner, a pastor at Berkshire Dream Center, reported that the center goes to Springside Park on a weekly basis to meet with the homeless. It is also holding church services every Sunday in the Morningside Community School parking lot.

The discussion to revive the Homelessness Prevention Committee started in March 2018 between former Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo, Ward 1 City Councilor Helen Moon and Carmel, who looked to re-establish the committee from 1989. Carmel was homeless at one point in his life, and Moon saw Pittsfield's homelessness problem firsthand when she worked on North Street. In September 2018, Mazzeo filed a petition to reactivate the dormant 1989 committee.

Carmel told the council that he has been very distressed since this committee was formed because it "thrives off information" from entities that work with the homeless and potentially homeless and he feels that the committee is not receiving that information.

He said the thought the new ordinance was exactly the same as the previous one, and in this present moment, the committee had not received vital information from Mayor Linda Tyer's office or ServiceNet that it needs to make recommendations.

"There seems to be a disconnecting in others wanting to share what they have," Carmel said. "Sometimes the commission is left out of doing the job we are intended to do."

People question the committee's effectiveness even though committee members work with many entities that are right on the front lines of homelessness such as schools, mental health facilities, the Police Department, the Christian Center, the Elizabeth Freeman Center, and Soldier On, he said.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio asked Tyer about the new committee, saying he thought she had been attacked and had the right to be heard. 

Tyer said the council has received letters of interest from people to join the new committee and that some seats are specific to organizations. She said they will be doing outreach to those organizations to find representatives to join.  

She also said no information had been withheld from the Homelessness Prevention Committee, pointing out an employee of the Community Development Office with experience in homelessness was a member of the committee. Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said reports and other information also had been given to the committee.  

Guiel Lampiasi concluded that It is important for the city to have a strong team working on the solution to homelessness and that the team is held accountable. She added that her statement is not meant as an insult to the work that has been done so far.

"I want to go back to the idea that information wasn't withheld and based on the membership of those on the committee, they have had access to that information. I think it's important that we all be honest about that," she said. "But the most important thing is that there is a new order and the committee is being shaken up a bit and I look forward to seeing how things move forward."

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By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

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