City Council approves new committee to serve Pittsfield's homeless

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PITTSFIELD — Debbie Vall, the Christian Center's assistant director, told city councilors Tuesday night that "just today" she gave a man a ride to his tent on Dalton Avenue.

"That's all I could do for him," she said. "And that breaks my heart."

Vall called it a regular occurrence — and she wasn't alone.

Alisa Costa, director of Working Cities Pittsfield, said she also has struggled to find shelter for city residents.

"I have a pit in my stomach just thinking about it ...," Costa said. "We have to do better."

City councilors unanimously agreed during their Tuesday meeting, approving a new committee to serve the city's homeless population.

Resident Ed Carmel brought forward a petition last spring to form the committee, and Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon both sponsored the measure.

The city used to have a committee devoted to the issue, but it fizzled out during the 1990s.

The new committee is slated to include 15 members, and will be a "diverse" group of city residents.

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The ordinance specifies that the committee should have a representative from Pittsfield Public Schools, and someone who works in veterans services, public safety and mental health. It also saves a city councilor a seat, as well as an emergency medical professional, someone who works in public safety and someone who is currently or formerly homeless.

Carmel previously told councilors that he would like to see the city doing more to help homeless people in Pittsfield, because "life is hard." On Tuesday, he told councilors it was a matter of "life or death."

The need is pressing, councilors agreed, because, as Mazzeo said, "winter is coming."

Councilors are hearing anecdotally that the homeless population is increasing, said Moon, who said she was proud to have an answer for these concerns — there is a committee in the pipeline.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said the committee will enhance existing efforts to help the homeless in Pittsfield, and might help apply a more innovative approach to the issue.

"This is an opportunity to think much differently," he said.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said councilors have a responsibility to help people on the streets.

"We all hear this every day," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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