Idea to put community centers at Pittsfield public housing brings optimism from residents

Thursday February 21, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Residents of the city’s public housing units are hopeful a new collaboration between the mayor’s office and police will help clean up the areas around their homes and better connect them with the community.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has announced the creation of community centers to serve as a meeting place for events like safety education seminars, voter registration, and to provide a police presence.

The first center could be up and running as soon as next week in Francis Plaza, said Charles Smith Jr., executive director of the Public Housing Authority.

The news has some residents of the 40-unit complex excited about the prospect of a safer neighborhood.

"We’ve seen a lot of drugs coming in and out of here," said one resident who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. "There’s people constantly coming and going in the parking lots and out on the street in plain sight. It’s like they’re not even hiding what they’re doing."

Police were often stationed at Francis Plaza, a state-funded public housing center, until about three years ago. The substation was funded through a federal grant to deter crime and answer resident concerns.

When the funds for the police substations dried up, it was no longer financially viable to have an officer on location, and the crime rate increased dramatically, according to residents.

"It didn’t use to be like this," one woman said. "This used to be a nice quiet area with a lot of older people living here. But now there’s a lot more young people and more crime than ever."

Each of the centers would also provide an array of services, including a place to hold health forums, safety seminars and various other educational classes.

"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 said.

The centers were the brainchild of the mayor’s newly formed Crime Task Force.

Wilson Park and Christopher Arms, the other two state-funded facilities, could have centers within the next few weeks. Dower Square, a federally funded facility, is scheduled to have one of the centers by May 1.

To reach Josh Stilts:,
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