PITTSFIELD -- Public housing units within the city may soon provide more than just a place for residents to sleep.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi announced Tuesday that he, Police Chief Michael J. Wynn, Sheriff Tom Bowler and Charles Smith Jr., executive director of the Public Housing Authority, have worked together to establish "community centers" in several of the buildings.

Each of the centers would provide an array of services, including a place to hold health forums, voter registration and a space for police officers to meet with residents and neighbors.

Francis Plaza will be ready to house one of the centers by next week while Wilson Park and Christopher Arms, all state-funded units, could house temporary locations as needed.

Wilson Park
Wilson Park (Eagle file photo)
A unit in Dower Square, a federally funded location, will be ready by May 1, according to Smith.

"There are a lot of single-parent families that live in the facilities, and it's important that we make those services available to them as well," Bianchi told The Eagle. "This is a tremendous opportunity to provide mentoring possibilities and also have someone there to notify if there are issues. We want to make them more of an integrated part of the community."

The idea for the centers came from the mayor's monthly meetings with his newly created Crime Task Force. Although there is a plan to have police officers in the buildings at set times, Bianchi stressed the centers are not meant to mimic the "police substations" that had been housed there previously.

Smith said the substations were funded through a federal grant that has since ended. The new center's costs, such as utilities, will be paid through the housing authority, he added.

"Most people seem reluctant to report something or even talk to a police officer, children especially, but if they see officers in their neighborhoods and developments giving tips on bicycle safety, for example, it creates a positive relationship," Smith said. "It shows that police aren't the bad guys."

Communication will be the key to the program's success, Smith said, as one of the goals is to reduce crime, not just "move the potential crime down the block, but rather out of the area completely."

Donna Mattoon, city director of administrative services, will oversee each of the groups' participation in the centers and said the collaboration is a great step forward for the public housing units, surrounding neighborhoods and the city.

"When you get more people involved in a community they feel better about it, they feel safer," she said.

Community programs could start in the centers within the next few weeks.

To reach Josh Stilts:
jstilts@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243.
On Twitter: @JoshStilts