ServiceNet Responds to Homeless Shelter Accusations
After the closing of a temporary homeless shelter at the former St. Joseph's High School Building, some local residents took to social media with accusations of an abrupt closing that pushed folks back out onto the streets. Claims were made that residents had no notice and even accused "the city" of throwing out personal belongings including brand new clothes and subscription medications.
Mayor Tyer responded via her FaceBook page, but ServiceNet, the organization charged with shelter operations, has made an official statement to clear up misinformation that has spread surrounding situation.
The full statement reads below:
There have recently been many conflicting reports on ServiceNet’s closing of the temporary shelter at St. Joseph’s High School in Pittsfield, and we believe it’s important that the public have the full story.
• ServiceNet, with the assistance of the City of Pittsfield and Soldier On, opened the temporary shelter at St. Joseph’s High School on April 6th to provide up to 50 homeless individuals a night with emergency shelter—with enough room for people to socially distance during the first wave of COVID-19. This shelter was open 24/7 until July 13th.
• Individuals who’d been guests at Barton’s Crossing, the year-round shelter operated by ServiceNet, were all transferred to St. Joseph’s in April. From May-October, Barton’s usually houses up to 20 people; from November-April, capacity expands to 40. This shelter is open from 4pm to 8am daily.
• During the 3+ months St. Joseph’s was open, ServiceNet staff provided shelter and case management services for 198 different individuals.
• ServiceNet, with the support of the Archdiocese of Springfield (the building’s owner) and assistance from the City of Pittsfield, opened the building, hired additional staff, set up sleeping quarters, and structured the operation, while Soldier On quickly ramped up their food service to guests.
• This collaborative response allowed our community to effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate a potential public health crisis. And thanks to the rigorous health safety standards, which were adhered to by staff and shelter guests alike, no one in the shelter tested positive for COVID-19 throughout this period.
• ServiceNet also continued its work to help people secure more permanent housing, and during this period, 30 individuals were rapidly re-housed. Others were assisted in gaining the resources needed to start this process.
• By June, the average daily census at St. Joseph’s was down to less than 20, as more people moved to outdoor sites or to stay with friends and family. This is the usual pattern ServiceNet witnesses every summer.
• The declining numbers did not justify our using finite resources to keep St. Joseph’s open, given both the low COVID infection rate in the community and our potential need for those resources later in the year.
• When ServiceNet closed the St. Joseph’s shelter and reopened Barton’s Crossing, 10 people moved to Barton’s—which is the total that can be accommodated there, given social distancing guidelines. And all but 4 of the remaining individuals were placed in other housing.
• Two weeks prior to closing St. Joseph’s, ServiceNet informed shelter guests that they would need to remove their belongings by July 13th or these items would be disposed of; this is in line with its usual shelter practices. Several people had already left their things behind—which had been bagged and tagged with their names—and ServiceNet staff contacted them to notify them of this plan.
• On Friday, July 10th, there were still two rooms full of people’s belongings at St. Joseph’s and the shelter was due to close the following Monday. ServiceNet staff again contacted individuals directly, including at the encampments, to let them know their items would be held another week, until Friday, July 17th.
• Several people came back to pick up their items that week, where staff remained on site to oversee the closing and clean-up.
• A dumpster, provided free of charge by the City of Pittsfield, was on-site for the duration of the shelter’s operation. At closing time, the dumpster was used to dispose of belongings that were not claimed. The city was called to retrieve and dispose the dumpster on July 17th.
• Though the St. Joseph’s Shelter has now closed, and Barton’s Crossing is down to 10 guests to allow for social distancing, ServiceNet’s case managers continue to build relationships with, and offer assistance to, people on the street, at the encampments, and at the agency’s North Street office.
• As we look ahead to the fall, ServiceNet is working on a plan to address a potential second wave of COVID-19. This would again require finding the necessary shelter space to accommodate an influx of guests as well as hiring additional shelter staff.
• At the same time, ServiceNet in the process of developing a long-term shelter at a new site, with a better physical plant and easier access to needed community supports and resources.
Community Support – Thank you!
• The problem of homelessness is a national crisis, not unique to Berkshire County, and it has been made even more acute by the pandemic. It has also been made more visible, as people have become increasingly aware of the extraordinary challenges faced by those for whom “sheltering in place” is virtually impossible.
• We are grateful to the individuals, organizations, and businesses throughout our community that stepped up to make the temporary shelter at St. Joseph’s High School a success – donating goods and services and offering moral support to the ServiceNet staff who were onsite 24/7.
• In Pittsfield, we are fortunate to have such strong working relationships between our City government and area social service providers. Together, we met the challenge of COVID-19’s initial impact in the Berkshires, and by responsibly stewarding our remaining resources, we will meet the upcoming challenges with equal unity and compassion.
• We encourage other organizations and individuals who want to help, to work together with ServiceNet so that we can avoid duplication of resources and make assistance available to as many individuals as possible.