Panhandling in Pittsfield: A rising issue

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Panhandlers – you see them everywhere. As NewsChannel 13 reported Wednesday night, one big problem is trying to find affordable housing for the homeless and panhandlers.

Residents and business owners say they’ve noticed more panhandlers popping up in recent years.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a larger presence of them. They don’t affect me, but I mean, they’re not in my face or in my space,” Ken Green, a businessowner said.

From what 13 Investigates saw on the streets of Pittsfield, many of the panhandlers, and homeless, were calm and quiet. None of them approached a car. However, that’s not always the case.

During the height of the pandemic, the town of Colonie tried to pass a law that would fine aggressive panhandlers if they continued to ask for money after being told “no.”

Albany leaders were asking drivers in 2021 to give money to charities, rather than giving directly to panhandlers and the homeless.

Most recently, Saratoga Springs city leaders were going back and forth on how to handle the ongoing panhandling issue.

“We’re all responsible for creating the kind of healthy society that we want, that’s going to benefit everybody. We need to look at how do we best support the most vulnerable people in our communities,”

Heather Larkin, a professor for UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare, said.

The pandemic revealed fractures in certain systems, she said.

“Not everybody having equal access to healthcare, not everybody being able to get services and supports that are needed, some people not being able to get sick leave off from work and needing to go to work,” she said.

She said panhandling and homelessness is usually caused by systemic issues, vulnerabilities, low wages, and now, affordable housing.

“What happened during the pandemic, a lot of people did move to rural areas, and housing prices have gone up,” Larkin said. “When I think about panhandling, it’s not something that most people want to have to do.”

No state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. There’s over 300,000 extremely low-income renter households across Massachusetts, 970,000 in New York state and 21,000 in Vermont, the coalition said.

The work continues after a person is housed.

“It’s not always successful just to house somebody if we don’t keep support there for them,” Erin Forbush, Director of Operations at ServiceNet, a group that helps the homeless in Pittsfield, said.
Forbush said she agrees with Larkin that we need to support each other.

“I think the simplest success is that if we create community, and people really come together, and we’re all helping each other, I mean, that’s what you want to go home with at the end of the day.”

NewsChannel 13 wanted to speak with the mayor of Pittsfield, but they did not want to speak with us.