PITTSFIELD — The city and community volunteers are taking new steps in response to continuing concern for the health and well being of homeless people taking up camp in Springside Park.
On Monday, city workers installed portable toilets and hand-washing stations in the southeast section of the park, at a cost of about $2,600. The stations will be cleaned daily by the vendor and remain there until at least Labor Day, according to Roberta McCulloch-Dews, the city's director of administrative services.
Additional trash receptacles will be added to the park and the city plans to have the pavilion surface and picnic tables power-washed weekly.
"We're just asking the residents [of the park] to work with us to ensure personal items are in their personal space," McCulloch-Dews said Friday.
City officials will continue to monitor the area, but no camping homeless person will be asked to leave, she said. She noted how one homeless family's dog was provided dog food. Berkshire Humane Society and community volunteers have offered to get health care for the dog as well.
While volunteer nurses have been checking on homeless people's health needs at the park, health care as well as food service and transportation is not being consistently provided by a single agency on a regular basis. The city also has a Homeless Prevention Committee created in September 2018 after city resident and committee Chairman Ed Carmel, then-Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo and Councilor Helen Moon successfully petitioned to reactivate it after it fizzled out in the 1990s.
Carmel said the group has not regularly met since the start of the pandemic but hopes its members will be brought onboard to advise on these issues and long-term housing solutions.
ServiceNet staff, in addition to their case management work, are now being asked by the city to collect any unclaimed items in the pavilion at the end of each day and store them at Barton's Crossing for distribution as needed.
"ServiceNet, they're our partner here in this work," McCulloch-Dews said.
"No city staff will remove materials in tents," she said. But she said that tents that "haven't been occupied in a while" are subject to being cleaned up, bagged and stored, until an owner can be located.
"Nothing will be thrown out," she said.
The city continues to ask community members to make donations to the homeless through ServiceNet, a mental health and human services agency contracted to work for the city.
"We're trying to help the public to understand that while we understand the concern and desire to donate, it's important to streamline donations through ServiceNet," McCulloch-Dews said.
Community members, advocates for the homeless and ministry outreach workers have also been visiting the park on a regular basis in recent months. Some of these advocates and homeless community members say they're distrustful or unhappy with the level of services and support offered via ServiceNet.
A GoFundMe online fundraiser created on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Training Consortium and the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community on July 15 has since raised $12,845 through 130 community donors to support the city's homeless.
On Sunday, the Code Blue Berkshires Homelessness Advocacy Action Team posted a thank you on its Facebook page for the relief efforts. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group also received funding from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for its outreach work.
"In the last five months, we have been able to support dozens of people living on the streets or otherwise not in a position to meet their basic needs with phones, portable chargers, clothes, shoes, tents, food, and more," read the post, signed by Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community Director Sera Davidow. "The Berkshire Mutual Aid Network, and a number of others have also been instrumental in helping us meet the great community need for extra help during this time."
The organization provides services and supplies in Pittsfield through its center located at 361 North St. It has also created a "needs request" online form to help fulfill specific requests from those in need, from phones and chargers to transportation to food and face masks.
"Unfortunately, all too often, well meaning people attempt to speak on behalf of or make assumptions about what people who are struggling need without asking them directly," Davidow wrote. "On some occasions, people wanting to help may even approach folks they see as needing help in invasive ways that inadvertently cause harm."
Jenn Smith can be reached at email@example.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.