Berkshire County shelters again ready to serve homeless; new state funding in place
PITTSFIELD — There have been a few changes since last winter's grip finally loosened, but the local response to homelessness has new funding in place to meet the expected level for need this season.
Brad Gordon, executive director at Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, said county shelters and other programs have again received $150,000 in state funding to deal with emergency housing issues.
"It is really a tribute to the Berkshire [legislative] delegation," he said, as the county secured the same amount allocated last year.
BCRHA acts as conduit for the state funding, most of which Gordon said goes to the Barton's Crossing transitional homeless shelter in Pittsfield, which add 20 emergency shelter beds during the winter.
State funding also will again be provided to the Louison House in Adams and to Construct Inc. in Great Barrington in north and south county. And the regional housing authority received funding for its several programs aimed at preventing homelessness and attacking the root causes of the problem.
"The reality is that homelessness is a 12 month a year challenge," Gordon said, as local programs constantly deal with the housing instability concerns or the crises residents experience.
One change this winter, he said, is that Soldier On will no longer provide 10 of the 20 emergency overnight beds needed in the Pittsfield area, but the Barton's Crossing shelter on North Street will expand its emergency bed total from 10 to 20.
As during 2014-15, those staying in the overnight beds will be screened for medical, mental health, addiction or other issues as they are admitted, and, if necessary, referred to services in the area.
Jay Sacchetti, who oversees shelter and housing programs for ServiceNet Inc., operator of the Barton's Crossing shelter, said additional space is being opened up and prepared in the large facility at 1307 North St. to expand the overnight bed capacity to at least 20.
"We opened up pieces we don't use, turned on the radiators," Sacchetti said.
That should be sufficient, he said, but Sacchetti said that nationally there is a "disturbing trend" of increasing homelessness. Last winter, which featured extended periods of extreme cold, 168 different people stayed in the Pittsfield shelter's emergency facility.
The state also has provided additional funding for ServiceNet to expand its apartment leasing program here from eight to 18 units, Sacchetti said, adding the change is an attempt to reduce the number of homeless people housed in motels.
As was the case last winter, the Family Life Support Center, which operates the Louison House shelter in Northern Berkshire, and Construct Inc., which operates a shelter in Great Barrington, will receive funding to provide emergency shelter services, Gordon said.
A long-range goal, he said, is to have a separate facility for emergency shelter for singles, which he said would allow greater flexibility for meeting the need for shelter during peak times in frigid weather.
ServiceNet operates a total of nine shelters in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties, including five year-round shelters and four emergency shelters on a seasonal basis.
The city did have a cot shelter at the Salvation Army building on West Street during 2012-13, but the organization was unable to continue hosting the volunteer-run shelter. That prompted a scramble to create a new shelter or expand services in existing facilities that slowly evolved into the current format.
Berkshire Health Systems provided a $45,000 grant to help stabilize local services for the homeless during 2013-14, and $150,000 in state funding for that purpose was secured for the winter of 2014-15 and once again for the coming winter.
Some local advocates for homeless services remain concerned that there still will be a need for additional overnight emergency beds, such as the two dozen once provided at the Salvation Army facility.
When that space wasn't available the following winter, efforts to find another location in Pittsfield ran into zoning, local building code or state fire code obstacles that would have been too expensive to overcome.
Sister Colette Hanlon, S.C., said she is one of those who remain concerned that "a number of people won't be able to find shelter."
She added that many believe "there are more than 20 homeless people in Pittsfield."
Sacchetti said one challenge for the Barton's Crossing shelter is that it can't accept some people because they are extremely intoxicated or present behavioral problems that could threaten others or staff members.
Those situations could require intervention by the police, he said, and often the person is taken to the hospital emergency room, where they might then be referred to another facility or services.
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