<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Lack of access to sanitation areas and restrooms causing problems in downtown Pittsfield

Arron Arnspiger and Star Richardson seated outside Berkshire Athenaeum

Arron Arnspiger, left, and Star Richardson have been together for almost a year now, living on the street. Richardson is three months pregnant and says that not having regular access to a bathroom is difficult.

Arron Arnspiger and Star Richardson will celebrate the one-year anniversary of their relationship next month. It’s a love story.

Arnspiger met Richardson through a friend. She didn’t have a home at the time and he was crashing at someone’s place. When their relationship gained some steam, he joined her on the streets.

“I didn’t want her to be homeless alone,” Arnspiger said.

They try, as best they can, to get by — and to keep each other company. Arnspiger shares that he was born in Germany. She teases him that he was born with elf ears because of it. They laugh about pranks.

But living on the streets comes with challenges. Recently, one of those problems has been access to public toilets for homeless people. The gap has led to issues of human waste in public areas and a ramping up of cleaning efforts downtown.

Trying to find a bathroom in the city once the sun sets is difficult, they both said.

“It’s impossible, especially if you’re pregnant,” she said. “I’m three months pregnant and I have a UTI because I can’t find a bathroom.”

The problem has a real cost for Richardson: She says she can’t afford to pay for the prescription for her urinary tract infection and said her MassHealth insurance doesn’t cover the medication she was prescribed.

When it comes to a day’s priorities, Arnspiger said the two are usually kept busy trying to find food or money to buy it. While they’re doing that, they keep an eye out for places to stop in and use a bathroom.

“We just walk around and hopefully somebody will open their bathroom up,” Richardson said.

Andy Cambi, director of public health for the Pittsfield Health Department, said the city is considering bringing in more portable toilets around downtown to ensure public access, including for people without homes. His staff has reached out to businesses in areas where people are going to the bathroom outside, to ensure they have the right personal protective equipment and supplies to clean up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, workers who handle human waste can be at risk for waterborne diseases.

‘Just a need’

Arnspiger and Richardson shared their story while sitting outside the Berkshire Athenaeum, the city’s main library on Wendell Avenue, where some homeless people in Pittsfield take refuge. The library is open until 9 p.m. and offers its bathrooms to the public.

Alex Reczkowski, the library’s director, said there have been instances when custodians have had to deal with waste around the building. Reczkowski said there need to be more public restrooms available downtown and he has been working with the city to try and secure them.

Reczkowski keeps an open line of communication with people who hang out outside the library, and addresses issues as they come up.

“People haven’t been disrespectful,” Reczkowski said. “This is just a need that has to be addressed.”

Reczkowski said the Pittsfield Health Department recently provided library staff with a supply of gloves and Cleancide, a disinfectant the department stocks.

The library also now has garden lime, a rock powder typically used to manage acidity in soil that staff use to address liquid waste. The front of the building is power-washed regularly, Reczkowski said.

Reczkowski said that the library is a place for people to come and get resources and that it strives to be accessible to everyone. He urged people to have compassion and patience when faced with the difficulties of being unhoused.

“The library’s a place where you’re uncomfortably facing challenges of our community,” Reczkowski said. “And homelessness in particular is an issue where people are tempted to ignore it, I think … most of us don’t understand what it’s like to be unsheltered.”

The Common

At The Common, Pittsfield’s park at 100 First St., the doors to bathrooms are locked at 8 p.m. Eddie Casella, park superintendent for The Common, said that this summer, his crew had to start coming to lock the door manually, rather than allowing its timed locks to click on at 8 p.m. due to problems with vandalism.

The Common’s bathrooms will close for the winter Monday. Casella explained that because the bathrooms are not heated, they are locked over the winter months to prevent pipes from freezing and for other cold weather issues.

Eddie Casella and James McGrath standing at the Common

Eddie Casella, left, and James McGrath stand at The Common. In less than a week, the park will close its public bathroom for the season and install a portable toilet to replace it. That installation might determine the location and use of other portable toilets around the city, according to Director of Public Health Andy Cambi. 

Once the bathrooms are closed, a portable toilet will be installed at the park offering 24-hour access to those who need it. Cambi said the toilet at The Common would be used to determine where and how more portable toilets would be made available downtown.

James McGrath, parks and open spaces manager for the city, said the park system is ready to handle any waste issues that arise at parks throughout the city.

The bigger problem is encountering drug paraphernalia, Casella said. His crews have found needles used for drug injection around The Common every day this summer, and worked as quickly as they could to dispose of them. The Common is one of the first morning stops for his crew, which also serves other parks in the system.

“We at the Parks Department aren’t passing judgment,” McGrath said. “We’re just trying to make certain that the park is safe.”

McGrath said park staff also try to connect homeless people with support services when they interact, directing people to nearby shelters that can provide a place to stay.

But for people spending time at the park, such as Kimberly Ferrone, the lack of access to services is apparent. Ferrone is in a shelter, but said many people end up on the street for one reason or another and can’t access services or places to keep themselves healthy.

“There’s really nowhere to go,” she said.

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

Sign-up for The Berkshire Eagle's free newsletters

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.