Thursday January 3, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city’s new emergency cot shelter opened just in time to assist homeless individuals during the season’s first extended spell of frigid weather.

Paul Deslauriers, director of the Pearl Street Day Center, which serves a similar population during the daytime, said the cot shelter opened Dec. 22 and the number of homeless people spending the night has since risen steadily.

"Everything is functioning very well," Deslauriers said Wednesday. "We opened just before Christmas, and last night we had 15 people staying at the shelter. It seems that word certainly is getting around."

The shelter, which opened in cooperation with the Salvation Army and located at that organization’s 298 West St. facility, is staffed primarily by volunteers and is set up in a gymnasium area each evening. The cots are taken down each morning and packed away to allow youth activities in the gym.

Deslauriers said staff members arrive by 6:30 p.m. and the doors remain open from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. "After 10:30, we ask that anyone who comes is escorted by a policeman," he said.

The shelter is designed to assist those homeless individuals or couples not being served by the more permanent shelters here, in Great Barrington and Adams. And rather than adhere to a strict no-alcohol or substance policy, as at long-term shelters, the only requirement is that a person does not disturb others staying the night.

The emergency shelter, Deslauriers said, helps address a long-standing need that every winter has placed an additional burden on police, emergency rooms and facilities like the McGee Unit for substance abuse treatment.

A core staff group, led by shelter manager J.D. Hebert, is bolstered by about 25 volunteers, many of whom are nurses, case workers and other health care professionals.

"We have a wonderful crew," Deslauriers said, "but we could always use more volunteers as backup."

The shelter also continues to seek donations, including for the purchase of heavy-duty cots from L.L. Bean. There now are 25 cots and another shipment is expected in mid-January. Cots, which cost $80, can be purchased by donors and dedicated to someone.

Call (413) 822-7671 for information on the emergency shelter. For information on donations, call (413) 445-4445 or visit www.co-act.org.