City collaboration will yield new community centers at PHA sites

PITTSFIELD – Mayor Daniel Bianchi has announced a new collaboration among City Hall, the Pittsfield Housing Authority, the Pittsfield Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department to establish community centers at public housing locations. 

The goal of the collaboration will help to make a variety of city services more accessible to residents in public housing, and establish a police presence to better address issues of crime and public safety. 

There will be no cost to taxpayers to establish Community Centers at several of the public housing developments in the city. The PHA has secured permission to offer a vacant unit in three of the public housing developments for use as a community center, and will cover the cost of the utilities. Once open, police officers will hold routine office hours at the developments. 

In addition, city officials will work with administration at the PHA to pursue grants that may someday pay for a dedicated public housing police presence. 

“This is a solid first step,” said Mayor Bianchi. “Many of the tenants in public housing  do not have the ability to access services at City Hall or participate in other community initiatives. And while most of the people and families living there are law-abiding citizens, crime is generated by a minority of public housing residents. We believe a police presence at those locations will not only make all of the residents in public housing safer, it will enhance public safety for the entire city.” 

According to Mayor Bianchi, the Community Centers can be used for a variety of programs such as health screenings, Neighborhood Watch meetings, voter registration drives, fire safety classes, mentoring programs, and a convenient site for court-mandated supervised visits. 

The idea of establishing Community Centers at public housing developments throughout the city is one of the outcomes of the mayor’s new Crime Task Force, which meets monthly and includes the District Attorney, the Police Chief and the Sheriff. Charles Smith Jr., executive director of the PHA, recently joined when the task force concluded that individuals living in or visiting public housing developments figured in the city’s crime problem. 

“We want to be an active partner in promoting these kinds of programs,” Smith said. “We know that our tenants will benefit if we make city services more accessible, while having a police presence will mean better communication with residents and a better quality of life. For the PHA, this will be a low-cost program that has the potential to be very impactful.” 

The collaborators said that space at Francis Plaza and Wilson Park will shortly be available for the initiative, and that Dower Square will have available space by May 1st.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said that PHA developments are already strategically located in neighborhoods where the police department already commits many resources .  “The Department has a longstanding relationship with these communities that was previously manifested in neighborhood resource centers and sub-stations,” the chief said. “Unfortunately, the loss of dedicated community policing grants in the mid-2000’s necessitated the closing of these facilities.”    

Sheriff Tom Bowler said that his department will initiate the TRIAD program in public housing developments. TRIAD is geared toward educating seniors about crimes that target the elderly. In addition, both Departments  will work on sponsoring monthly sports clinics for the youth living in public housing, providing both role models for youth and helping kids build skills that will enable them to join established city sports leagues. 

The mayor also noted that Pittsfield Promise, the city’s literacy initiative, could find very effective venues at PHA locations. 

“We have a lot of little kids here, and a perfect supply of Grandmas who would love to read to them,”  Smith noted.