PITTSFIELD — City Councilor Charles Kronick is calling for clarity on how Pittsfield's leaders plan to respond to places where people are living outdoors.
The Ward 2 councilor says he has ideas for how Pittsfield can respond to camps of people experiencing homelessness and the need for housing assistance. But he clarified Monday that a petition he wrote that comes before the council Tuesday isn’t calling for a specific action.
He terms it a public conversation between the council, community and City Hall. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers in City Hall.
ISSUE IN A NUTSHELL: Kronick says his petition is “responding directly to requests from the public who live near the camps and have people walking through the neighborhoods, in their properties, and are dealing with the aftermath of the camps … the residents who are asking for a correction to this behavior.”
The councilor said that when he approached city departments with what he saw as clear ordinance violations to city rules around waste disposal, public sanitation, overnight camping and trespassing, he found no appetite for ordinance enforcement.
The Health Department, which Kronick names specifically in his petition, did not respond to a request for comment on Kronick’s characterization of homelessness within the city or its handling of code enforcement.
“I’m not casting judgment on the people living in the camps,” Kronick said. “I’m not saying that we need to go after property owners necessarily, but that might be part of the issue.
“I’m just saying that the city has its ordinances and rules and therefore has its means and its tools to enforce them and I’m just asking that they do that."
WHAT'S HAPPENING TUESDAY: The petition submitted by Kronick asks for councilors to vote Tuesday whether or not to organize a separate meeting of the body that would give the community a chance to discuss the camps and bring leaders forward to say how they’re responding to people living in the camps.
Over the weekend, Kronick used social media to describe Tuesday’s open microphone segment of the meeting as “your turn to show the council how the camps hurt your homes and businesses.”
WHY NOW: The councilor claims in his petition that in recent weeks, camps of people experiencing homelessness have spread and created “a direct hazard to Pittsfield’s communities.”
Kronick said Monday that he was approached by a resident last spring about camps in their neighborhood and that the situation “came to a head in the last couple weeks, I’ve been getting a lot more calls.”
In his petition, he says people have been living near the Cabulance property on Oak Street, between the Berkshire Athenaeum and First Church of Christ, Scientist on Wendell Avenue as well as ”business lots on North Streets” and Springside Park.
On Wendell Avenue, a small group of young people was gathered mid-afternoon Monday near the entrance of the Berkshire Athenaeum, including one man stretched out and napping against the building. No evidence of a camp was visible.
When The Eagle visited the area around the Cabulance property on Oak Street, no tents or encampments were in plain view.
However, a man who works in the area said he often sees people going into a wooded lot bordered by Pleasant and Oak streets. City records show the property is owned by JRCR Realty LLC, controlled by Anthony and Joseph Renzi.
And this summer, trees and brush were removed from a large area on the south side of railroad tracks at the end of Oak Street that has been a camp area, the man said. Articles of clothing could be seen in the debris left behind. The property is owned by AC Enterprises LLC, whose manager is Louis Allegrone, according to the secretary of state's database.
THE BACKSTORY: The number of people experiencing homelessness in Berkshire County nearly doubled in the last two years, according to point in time counts reported by the Three County Continuum of Care — the regional organization that helps coordinate housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.
A one-day count of people experiencing homelessness conducted in late January 2020 found that there were 116 people without permanent housing in the county. A one-day count in February of this year found that there were 225 people without permanent housing.
In Pittsfield, many of those experiencing homelessness in the early days of the pandemic sought shelter in Springside Park, where in the summer of 2020, an estimated 25 to 60 people took up residence on any given day, according to homeless residents, community advocates and city officials.
That fall, the Parks Commission decided to clamp down on the encampments establishing a December deadline for people to leave the park. The commission cited concerns for the safety of people living in the camps during the colder months and over trees reportedly being cut down in the park for firewood. The city directed people to overwinter at a shelter set up in the former St. Joseph Central High School.
When the December deadline came, city officials ultimately decided not to evict people from the park.