Soldier On set to close overflow Pittsfield shelter


PITTSFIELD -- Soldier On's overflow emergency housing shelter, which was opened for the winter in November, will be closed after Sunday.

Jack Downing, CEO of the veterans organization, said the shelter was only funded for the winter months through a grant by Berkshire Health Systems. It is designed to handle overflow from the Barton's Crossing shelter on North Street.

That shelter, which is run by Servicenet, doesn't accept those who may be under the influence of alcohol.

In November, Downing said there was a crisis of people who couldn't get into Barton's Crossing, which led his organization to open up a new shelter to handle the overflow and those turned away. "We should never be in the situation we were in last November."

Soldier On provided food, clothing, showers and beds at its facility on West Housatonic Street; Berkshire Medical Center stepped up with funding for social workers from Servicenet to work at the shelter.

John Lawson, vice president of operations for Soldier On, said the shelter also took in people who were banned from Barton's Crossing for behavioral issues.

He said as of Tuesday, there were six people staying at the shelter who will need to find an alternative home.

Brad Gordon, executive director and attorney for the Berkshire Regional Housing Authority, which works to prevent homelessness, said he is hopeful state funding will come through to expand the number of beds at Barton's Crossing and help provide more beds at Soldier On in the winter.

There are presently 16 beds at Barton's Crossing. Gordon said he would also like to make funds available to place the homeless in hotels and motels in the southern and northern part of Berkshire County.

Representatives of Barton's Crossing or Servicenet could not be reached for comment.

Downing said he expects to reopen this winter if state funding comes through. In the meantime, he said, he didn't know what would happen to people who relied on Soldier On for shelter. Gordon said he was also unsure where they would turn.

Some may sleep in tents, he said. In the past, they would "go into the police station and sleep in doorways," he said.

Downing said that some of those who stayed at the shelter this winter have found subsidized housing.

He said 65 to 70 percent of people who use the shelter have a mental health issue. Many have problems with alcoholism.

While the shelter is meant to be used overnight, the shelter allowed the homeless to stay throughout the day if the temperature outside was below 20 degrees.

"It was a bad year," Lawson said. "It was cold."

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
or (413) 496-6243


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