Pittsfield clearly has a shortage of options for the homeless, and the most pronounced need is a shelter for women. It also appears that the various nonprofit and for-profit groups providing this service, however well-intentioned, may be working at cross-purposes.
A shortage of apartments, combined with a sluggish economy exacerbated for the long-term unemployed by the callous cut-off of benefits last month by Congress, are creating a city homelessness crisis (Eagle, Feb. 13). For many women, domestic abuse adds to the twin problems of joblessness and homelessness. Denise Sortino of the Elizabeth Freeman Center said at this week's forum on homelessness that 60 percent of the homeless women the organization helps are victims of violence.
Barton's Crossing, Pittsfield's main shelter, is at full capacity. It is run by ServiceNet of Northampton, which took over when the Berkshire Community Action Council lost United Way funding over concerns about the BCAC's former management. Berkshire Co-Act, whose shelter at the Salvation Army was shut down last year because of city code violations, wants to open a shelter at Providence Court but has not found favor with the Pittsfield House Authority for reasons the PHA and Co-Act dispute. The PHA waiting list extends for years. Co-Act executive director Paul Deslauriers maintains his group can operate a shelter at lower cost to the city than ServiceNet, which received $45,000 from Berkshire Medical Center in December to add 10 cots for the winter.
Pittsfield's highest priority should be a women's shelter, which United Way could perhaps consider funding in part. If the organizations that serve the homeless combined in pursuit of this goal, that may have the additional benefit of uniting them in addressing an issue that, sadly, is not going to be permanently resolved.