PITTSFIELD — The City Council on Tuesday night rejected as “draconian” and “punitive” a petition by Councilor Charles Kronick that would have postponed funding requests and grant approvals to the Pittsfield Parks Department until encampments are cleared at Springside Park.
The council voted 8-2 against the measure, with Karen Kalinowsky the only other supporter.
Alternatively, the council voted to approve a petition by Councilor Patrick Kavey asking for a report from the Mayor Linda Tyer’s administration on current efforts to address homelessness. The council’s vote referred the petition to the mayor’s office, which is expected to provide an update.
Springside Park has been the site of encampments in recent years, with residents setting up tents and living in a wooded area of the sprawling park, which covers some 237 acres off Springside Avenue just north of downtown.
Councilor Kevin Sherman described Kronick’s petition as “a one-size-fits-all draconian measure against the entire parks’ population.” He went on to say that this was an issue the city couldn’t wait on, but that this was not the right approach.
“Holding a guillotine over the head of the entire parks’ population in the city of Pittsfield until we hear what’s happening is not the right way to go,” Sherman said.
Councilor Pete White seconded Sherman’s comments, and called for more compassion in the approach the city takes. He also disagreed with denying the parks system the ability to make improvements that benefit the whole community because of this issue.
“I don’t like this painting with a broad brush that homeless people in our community are bad people and that they’re specifically causing problems,” White said. “We shouldn’t be trying to criminalize that they don’t have a place to live.”
Councilor Earl Persip said he felt the petition was an attack on homeless people, and that the council’s efforts need to be focused on solutions. He didn’t feel the petition was a viable way to address the problem.
“We need to support these people,” Persip said. “They don’t want to be living in Springside Park. It’s what they have right now … but to go there, rip up their camps and kick them out, they’re just going to move elsewhere.”
But Kalinowsky noted that it is illegal to camp in public parks, and the city should not allow the law to be violated.
“I’m just not seeing a lot of action out there,” Kalinowsky said.
Kronick defended the petition as the right one to adopt, stating that allowing the situation to go unaddressed would go against taxpayers in the city who “own the parks.” Persip pointed out that homeless people are still constituents and citizens of the city.
Other councilors spoke out against the petition before voting against it.
“We are not going to criminalize poverty in the city of Pittsfield,” said Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi.
The city’s public comment period was abuzz with varying opinions on the situation at Springside Park.
Pittsfield resident Lucas Marion, of Oxford Street, came forward to applaud the city for investing in supportive housing on West Housatonic Street, and said the discourse around homelessness in the city had become outrageous.
“A panhandler in Park Square doesn’t look as bad for our city as speaking about a crisis like this with cruelty and inhumanity,” Marion said.
Marion went on to say that the city’s housing issues were complex, noting the strenuous requirements to secure a one-bedroom apartment in the city. He also said that action should be taken to help unhoused people ahead of the impending cold weather season.
“They are not a blight, they are not unwelcome and they are not bad people because they upset our delicate suburban sensibilities,” Marion said.
Elizabeth Kulas, who lives on Abbott Street near Springside Park, described experiences that she’s had with unhoused people since moving back to Pittsfield, including panhandling and issues with people under the influence of drugs. She said something needs to be done to address problems in the park.
Kulas suggested that unhoused people living in Springside Park being relocated to The Common, another park at 100 First St. that has better lighting and more police officers. She felt it would be safer for everyone involved.
“I feel for them, I wouldn’t want to be living in a tent in Springside Park … unfortunately, some of them are at the mercy of the drugs they take, and thus are presenting a problem in our neighborhood,” Kulas said.
Michael Barosso, of Delaware Avenue, described homelessness in the city as a “blight” and questioned why some other city initiatives were poised to pass while this was still going unaddressed.