Sign of the times

Except for Sunday’s Harvest Supper, the Greenfield Common is closed until Oct. 1

  • Signs have been placed on the Greenfield Common on Wednesday giving notice that it will be closed to everyone from Aug. 24 until Oct. 1. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Signs have been placed on the Greenfield Common on Wednesday giving notice that it will be closed to everyone from Aug. 24 until Oct. 1. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Signs have been placed on the Greenfield Common on Wednesday giving notice that it will be closed to everyone from Aug. 24 until Oct. 1. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Signs have been placed on the Greenfield Common on Wednesday giving notice that it will be closed to everyone from Aug. 24 until Oct. 1. Staff Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 8/22/2018 10:57:41 PM

GREENFIELD — As of Friday morning, no one will be allowed on the Greenfield Common until Oct. 1 as the Department of Public Works cleans the space that has been primarily used as a homeless encampment since early July.

The decision was announced by the Mayor’s Office Wednesday afternoon, while it posted newly printed signs on the Common to inform the people there of the new deadline to leave.

The permit taken out by public works for the cleaning and reseeding of the space in the center of the downtown allows for the closure to begin Sept. 6. City officials said they elected to close it almost two weeks earlier in preparation for Sunday’s 13th Free Annual Harvest Supper.

Despite all of this, it is expected the Harvest Supper, which aims to feed around a thousand people with locally grown food, will be able to hold its licensed event anyway.

Field Superintendent Paul Raskevitz, who has been leading the Public Works Department in the absence of a director, said if need be, his crew can place wood chips over the grounds that they will be digging up. The supper plans to put out tables on the Common.

There have been several moving pieces behind this new  deadline the mayor has set — from laws that weren’t part of the public conversation earlier to laws that were in the conversation but were seen as not fully enforceable by the police, to a pending ordinance that may be relevant.

One of the biggest questions has been what will happen to the nearly 20 people who are currently sleeping on the Common if they have not found housing before 8 a.m. Friday.

Greenfield police will be present with the public works crew Friday. Those who may still be there and choose not to leave will be seen as trespassing.

“It’s just come a time that it’s been determined we have a health issue here,” Police Chief Robe rt Haigh said. “This cannot go on any longer for the people there and for the community as a whole.”

Haigh clearly said he does not hope his department has to arrest anyone on Friday for trespassing.

He took a moment to praise his department, but also many of the people on the Common for a “relative peace” that has been kept. Haigh said the alleged stabbing incident this past Saturday morning, which charged a Greenfield resident with attempting to murder an individual who has been sleeping on the Common, did not play a role in this overall decision. But, “these are the things we’ve been worried about.”

The chief said he’s “confident everybody who wants assistance, will get the best assistance we can provide.” There are people on the Common who do not want assistance, he said, and haven’t wanted to move on.

“This will be a continued community process to fight the homelessness issue, period,” Haigh said. “This will continue beyond Friday morning.”

A group of people, possibly five or six, left Wednesday to New York for housing there, Haigh said. A man on the Common who went solely by the name of Bob said Tuesday night that he and likely two of his friends were going to go with this option, which was presented to them on Monday by a woman who had offered assistance. Around Sept. 5, a new High Street shelter to be run by Clinical & Support Options, may open, Mayor William Martin said Tuesday.

In the meantime, those who are still around this Sunday for the Stone Soup Cafe’s annual Free Harvest Supper will be welcomed to the area around the Common for a meal, organizer Kirsten Levitt said.

“We want to make sure every member of the community is included,” said Levitt, who is the executive director of the Stone Soup Cafe. “There is nobody we want to push into the shadows. That’s not our mission whatsoever.”

Levitt woke up Wednesday to the news the Common was going to be cleared of the homeless by Friday in preparation for her harvest meal. That was a surprise to her. Martin, who had announced this to reporters following a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, had not consulted with Levitt, she said.

She said her organization “deeply regrets the decision that puts us in that light” of wanting the Common to be cleared before the meal.

In recent weeks, Levitt has seen many of the people who have been living on the Common at the cafe’s weekly free meal Saturday mornings in the All Souls Church. There have been no issues with conduct or cleanliness, she said.

“I’m going to make my best efforts to keep saying ‘come and eat with us,’” Levitt said. “We’re all part of the same community.”

The decision to make sure no one is on the Common for the harvest supper was informed by the rules and procedures that the Board of License Commissioners enforces. At the board’s Tuesday meeting — its first since mid-July — a commissioner raised the issue of the encampment being in conflict with the law.

Once the  rule, which was adopted by the commission in June of 2016 following a revision of its rules by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was presented at the meeting, it was clear the board had jurisdiction.

“The point of the matter is it was discovered and brought to the attention of the mayor, and if it helps the mayor’s doing, then fine,” Chairman Bob Wolanske said. “I object to any group taking over the Common for whatever reason.”

Wolanske said although he’s been aware of the tenters on the Common since the commission’s last meeting, shortly after the encampment began to grow in size, he did not connect it directly to the rules his commission enforces. Instead, it wasn’t until a fellow member brought it forward at this week’s meeting and showed the rules on paper that it became clear there was a violation because campers need a license to stay on the Common.

The picnic tables have been removed from the Common, signs put up and the benches are supposed to go shortly, too. This will allow the public works crews to reseed the land. By Oct. 1, it is expected, it should be back in good condition. Until then, no one — homeless or not — will be allowed on the Common as the grass takes hold.

The only exception to the rule may be the harvest supper on Sunday. Levitt hopes the day will be a moment for the community to come together because, “in adversity, we can shine and be our best selves.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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