PITTSFIELD -- Within two weeks, a transitional shelter expects to add 10 more emergency beds for the winter as Pittsfield develops longer range solutions to help the community's homeless.
Officials at Barton's Crossing say they will nearly double their overnight shelter capacity from 12 to 20 in an effort to meet the city's shortage of emergency housing.
"[Our activity] will pick up as it gets colder and the winter harder," said Jay Sacchetti, vice president of Berkshire services for ServiceNet, the operator of Barton's Crossing.
Sacchetti's remarks came during the latest community forum Monday afternoon at City Hall to address Pittsfield's short- and long-term needs for individuals and families trying to keep a roof over their heads.
During the hour-long meeting, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, along with his director of administrative services, Mary McGinnis, announced the formation of a community focus group to identify resources needed to help those who spend weeks and months going from shelter to shelter. Those wishing to participate on the panel should contact the mayor's office at (413) 499-9322.
"Homelessness is persistent, something every community faces," Bianchi said.
Since early November, city officials, representatives of several private shelters, social service agencies and local clergy have been working to replace the emergency cot shelter that operated last winter at the Pittsfield Salvation Army.
Last week, Berkshire Health Systems donated $45,000 toward the extra staffing and security needed to add more overnight beds to a rear wing at Barton's Crossing. Besides emergency shelter, the North Street facility provides transitional shelter for up to two years and programs to help the homeless find permanent housing, jobs and health care.
Furthermore, Solider On last month, which primarily works with veterans, added 10 emergency shelter beds -- for men only -- at its West Housatonic Street facility.
However, city police and see an increasing need for women and families.
Ellen Merritt, executive director of the Christian Center, is currently trying to find temporary housing for a family of nine who could no longer afford pay rent for a low-income apartment.
"There's a 16-year-old who has dropped out of school and a 2-year-old who looks so tired, his eyes are about to pop out," Merritt said.
Local housing officials agree more than 20 emergency beds are needed but more importantly, solutions to help "short circuit" the vicious cycle of homelessness.
"I hope we can fund long-term solutions through cooperation that are cost effective," said Berkshire Co-Act Executive Director Paul Deslauriers. Deslauriers oversaw the Salvation Army's emergency shelter.
Any long-range plan will need support from the state, including the Legislature passing revamped health care regulations, according to Brad Gordon, executive director of Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.
"The bill would extend stays at substance abuse places ... and make it less likely people would become homeless," Gordon noted.
He also called for a boost in the state's minimum wage to help the homeless find decent paying jobs.
While city, shelter and social service agency officials admit the number of homeless adults and children has been under reported, the Rev. Quentin Chin says homelessness can't be treated as a bottom-line figure.
"Every person has an individual story to tell," said the interim pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233