The police substations located in public housing in Pittsfield served a purpose, but the so-called "community centers" to be established in several of the units should address a wider variety of needs by providing a greater number of services.
The expiration of a federal grant ended funding for the substations, but the community centers to be funded through the Pittsfield Housing Authority will have an ongoing source of city revenue. Mayor Daniel Bianchi announced Tuesday that he, Police Chief Michael Wynn, County Sheriff Tom Bowler and Housing Authority Executive Director Charles Smith Jr. had combined efforts to create the centers. The first of the centers will be opened in Francis Plaza by next week with a unit in Dower Square scheduled to be open in May. (Eagle, Feb. 20).
Police will have a presence in the public housing units as space in the centers will be set aside for officers to meet with residents and neighbors. This informal atmosphere should make it easier for citizens to interact with police officers in addressing persistent crime problems.
Beyond that, however, the centers will be able to provide services like voter registration and information on health. Residents of public housing don’t always vote in the numbers needed to make their voices heard, and it is easy to imagine the centers helping to clarify muddled issues like the need for and potential side effects of vaccinations for children. The centers may also provide information on educational assistance as the city looks for ways to assure that preschool to third-grade students build a firm educational foundation.
The concept of the centers is a product of Mayor Bianchi’s monthly meetings with his new Crime Task Force. It is a concept that could potentially provide long-term benefits for residents of public housing in particular and for Pittsfield in general.