|IN THE NEWS: Coalition Forum Seeks Collaboration on Homelessness|
February 16, 2011
By Kathy Keeser
Special to iBerkshires
11:58AM / Wednesday, February 16, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Collaboration is the first step in dealing with the issue of homelessness in Berkshire County, as evidenced at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's monthly forum on Friday as participants rallied around a woman who had no place to go.
Jay Levy of Eliot Community Human Services said the agency has an outreach worker who visits area shelters.
The woman announced announced her situation near the beginning of the meeting and pleaded for help. Soon, she had a small group of people representing various agencies with resources and a couple of concerned citizens working together to find solutions to her situation. While they may not have completely resolved her problem, they worked together to learn what was already in place and what else could be done. She had their attention.
Finding help for the homeless is not a quick, simple solution.
"It has changed over the past five years that I have been in it," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. "It was the problem of chronic homelessness, now the need for emergency housing has shot through the roof. The population of need has grown, while the resources have gone down. Various factors in the economy (loss of jobs, mortgage foreclosure, etc.) have come together to change the problem."
Often when someone is homeless, the people trying to help may not know whom to call. Police and others often think to call the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army does not have a shelter or many resources to deal with homelessness. Police in Berkshire County have often been willing to transport individuals to shelters in a real emergency.
One option is to call Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority at 413-443-7138 or 1-800-248-9002. BCRHA staff can help to determine eligibility for shelters, and also has other housing support services including housing searches, tenant/landlord mediation, etc.
For emergency placements, there are limited numbers in Berkshire County. Barton's Crossing in Pittsfield (413-442-1445) does have staff available 24 hours on call for case management and with emergency beds usually available on a first-come, first-served basis, with check in by 4 p.m. and out the next day at 7 a.m. Their beds do not have to go through the state eligibility system. Barton's Crossing is only for men or women; no children.
Louison House is transitional housing, not an emergency shelter, but can sometimes house individuals on an emergency basis for an evening or over the weekend, then other programs and resources need to take over. Because Louison House is transitional housing with families and children, staff have to make sure that anyone coming to the house on an emergency basis will not be a danger to the families, especially the children. The staff at Louison House, Family Life Support, is also helpful and knowledgeable and will do what they can to get people to the right resources.
Eliot Community Human Services of Western Massachusetts has an outreach worker based in Pittsfield who visits all three area shelters (Barton's Crossing and Our Friend's House in Pittsfield and Louison House in Adams) to work with individuals and families for further supportive services needed. Jay Levy, the regional manager for Western Mass., can be reached at 413-587–6427.
A new collaboration led by Co-Act offers individuals who are unemployed or homeless (even if living in a shelter, most have to leave the shelter during the daytime) shelter two days a week at First United Methodist Church in Pittsfield for showers, use of computers and to talk with one of the many volunteers from 23 area organization for help with their needs.
Each of the programs does a good job to meet what needs it can, providing a piece of the puzzle that is homelessness. There are still gaps and obstacles in the system that make it harder to meet the growing needs of the homeless in Berkshire County.
When in a crisis and becoming or already homeless, calling a resource number often means leaving a message for the staff but the individual or family may not have access to a reliable phone number for return calls.
SafeLink Wireless is a government-supported program, (established in 1984, enhanced in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and created by TracFone Wireless Inc.) that provides a free cell phone and a free airtime monthly plan for income-eligible customers. To apply, call 1-800-SAFELINK or enroll at www.safelink.com.
To enroll in SafeLink, to obtain or continue to receive benefits from state agencies, and to access computers at public libraries, a mailing address is needed. Often someone homeless does not have an address they can use.
"We need to advocate with the state so we can work as a region to meet needs in a more expeditious manner, to be more responsive and to work toward a scattered site model throughout the county, rather than congregate housing (shelters as they exist currently)," said Brad Gordan, executive director of the Regional Housing Authority). Gordan explained that often shelters in the Berkshires are occupied by folks from out of the area and who don't want to be here; they want to be where they have supports. The policies for placement in shelters are often cumbersome and time-consuming.
While area resources struggle to meet the growing county homeless needs for placements, the bigger picture comes to mind. What about means to deal with the roots of homelessness and finding ways to prevent more people becoming homeless? Would prevention not be less costly for our area?