Salvation Army shelter to give warm beds to homeless


PITTSFIELD -- The Pearl Street Day Center and the Salvation Army are collaborating on a new shelter to meet the needs of more than two dozen homeless people organizers believe are now sleeping outdoors around the city.

Paul Deslauriers, director of the day center at the corner of Fenn and Pearl streets, and Maj. James Fletcher, administrator of the Salvation Army's facility at 298 West St., said the planned cot shelter would serve those who could not be housed at the Barton's Crossing transitional shelter for lack of space or because of rules banning alcohol or substance use or behaviors associated with those suffering from psychological or emotional problems.

Fletcher said the Salvation Army's headquarters staff in Boston is reviewing details of the shelter to ensure "all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed" concerning what will be called the Berkshire Emergency Win ter Cot Shelter. He is awaiting final approvals.

The shelter is designed to assist those homeless individuals or couples not being served by the Barton's Crossing shelter at 1307 North St., and others in Great Barrington and Adams. Rather than adhere to a strict no-alcohol or substance policy, Fletcher said the "only stipulations would be behavioral."

In other words, if a person has been drinking or has some psychological or emotional issues -- but they are not a threat or a disturbance to others -- they would be given a cot in a gymnasium area of the Salvation Army building.

Deslauriers said the day center has assembled a core staff and has trained about 25 volunteers, many of them nurses, case workers and other health care professionals, to staff the new shelter and work and interact with those who stay overnight. The shelter manager is JD Hebert.

The nonprofit group Co-Act is raising donations for the shelter from individuals, organizations and institutions. Donations of $80 toward the Byer cots, 25 of which were ordered through L.L. Bean at a discount for the group, would allow for a name plate listing the donor. Another 15 cots are expected.

The need for such a service, Deslauriers said, has existed in Pittsfield for more than two decades. Currently, the people who would be served are sleeping outside or seeking admission to the emergency room, the McGee Unit for substance abuse treatment, or in some cases, deliberately seeking to be arrested and placed in jail.

In efforts to stabilize the lives of homeless people toward more permanent housing and possibly employment, "we have been missing the bottom rung," Deslauriers said. An overnight shelter model is by far the least expensive option in addressing the problem, he added.

Deslauriers said during a meeting of volunteers on Wednesday that, in addition to fundraising, the group also will approach area institutions -- especially those that stand to see reduced costs in working with homeless people -- for grant-style support.

For information about do nating to the effort, call (413) 232-7888.

Many of the same people are those seen by staff members at the day center, Deslauriers said, and some arrive "freezing" from a night outdoors. He said there is "the joke, which is not a joke, that the SPCA treats stray dogs better, because they provide a warm place to stay.

"To me," he said, "this is a moral issue."

Planning for the shelter began last year, he said, and has involved a host of volunteers from organizations, agencies and from throughout the health care and human services sector.

The shelter space, which during the daytime still will be used as a gym for youth programs, will open at 7 p.m. nightly through April 30, and homeless people must come in and register by 10 p.m., at which point the doors will be locked to anyone not brought in by a police officer. The lights will be turned down at 11 p.m.

In the morning, the staff and homeless people will store the cots and clean up the area and breakfast will be provided.

The facility has been inspected by city safety and fire personnel, Deslauriers said, and staff members and volunteers trained. "We hope to open soon," he said, adding that people have been calling to ask, "When are you opening?"

Fletcher said it is normal for a longer-term shelters not to allow drinking or substance use, but that has been changing for overnight shelters in other cities. He said the organizers of the Pittsfield effort have consulted with operators of a shelter in Northampton and with others serving a similar group of homeless people.

Those staying at the cot shelter could be women or couples, in addition to single men, he said, and adjustments would be made as needed to accommodate those people.


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