Our Opinion: Homeless are part of our community

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A homeless person or family are worthy of their community's care. They may have mental health issues, addiction problems or just be down on their luck, having lost the job that paid their rent. They are neighbors in need, and those needs are no less urgent or legitimate simply because they lack a permanent roof over their heads.

Fortunately, Pittsfield is home to several agencies whose mission is to serve the homeless in various ways, and the city has formed a committee comprising service providers, homeless advocates, city officials and even representatives from the homeless community. The Pittsfield City Council approved the formation of the new Homeless Prevention Committee in September and it met for the first time on Monday. Considering that homelessness is an ever-changing, yet permanent feature of Pittsfield's daily municipal existence, the only question is why the concept of coordinating efforts to combat it was allowed to languish in the 1990s.

The good news, though, is that there are community leaders and stakeholders who realize that working together toward the same goal amounts to a force multiplier by helping to prevent duplicative efforts, sharing information and targeting specific remedies to those with specific needs. Communication, for example, is key — not just for organizational purposes but for getting the word out to clients, whose knowledge of available aid is passed mainly by word of mouth.

Erroneous rumors can make a difference between life and death. Cheryl Bassett, site manager for Barton's Crossing, a local shelter, is trying to correct the misconception that her facility is turning people away simply because there is a waiting list for rooms. A homeless person unaware that they are welcome at Barton's Crossing even if they have to be housed in the basement might needlessly spend the night in the bitter cold with possibly fatal consequences.

The committee elected Pittsfield resident Ed Carmel, who used to be homeless himself, as its chairman. Mr. Carmel hopes to establish a hub where the homeless can not only obtain food but find professional medical attention, a worthy goal.

Of all times of the year, winter is the most perilous for Pittsfield's homeless residents, and the institution of the new committee could not have come at a more propitious moment. Importantly, its name — the Homeless Prevention Committee — can not and will not be interpreted as running the homeless off to some other locale. It means that it has been formed to address the specific underlying causes of homelessness, beginning with the individuals who, along with those who have a place to lay their heads at night, comprise a full-fledged segment of the Pittsfield community.

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