Mayor addresses ‘crisis’ at garage, parks: Complaints received about needles, trash and public defecation

  • Greenfield residents have expressed concerns over the increasingly unsanitary conditions at the Olive Street Parking Garage. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Piles of what appears to be animal feces can be seen in sections of the parking structure stairwells. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • An increasing amount of cigarette butts and other litter has been seen in the Olive Street Parking Garage in Greenfield in recent weeks. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Stairways in the parking garage on Olive Street in Greenfield are stained from it being an area of public urination and defecation. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/24/2021 6:48:46 PM

GREENFIELD — Mayor Roxann Wedegartner addressed on Wednesday night a growing concern among residents over the unsanitary conditions at the Olive Street Parking Garage.

Over the last few weeks, residents have reached out to Wedegartner’s office and their respective councilors expressing concern over the amount of trash and hypodermic needles that are left in the parking garage and in local parks, as well as concern for the garage being a site of public defecation and urination.

“The pandemic has certainly caused this problem to increase and we are seeing it, even in our community,” Wedegartner said to City Council at its meeting Wednesday night.

She said the relevant departments — the Police, Health, Recreation and Public Works departments — met this week to discuss strategies for addressing the issue.

“The parking garage is a particularly bad problem right now,” Wedegartner said. “People are squatting there and also publicly urinating and defecating.”

She said it’s become a public health problem that “may be nearing a crisis.”

“I don’t mean that in an inflammatory way,” she said. “I just mean we have a problem that’s ongoing but seems to have grown exponentially in recent weeks.”

Wedegartner said the increasing number of issues is partly a reflection of staffing shortages that are the result of budget cuts.

“(DPW Director Marlo Warner) used to have 12 staff to do trash and cleanup every day; now, he has eight staff and they do it four days per week,” she explained.

The parking garage, which is city property, is cleaned weekly on Fridays by the Department of Public Works, she noted. Police officers, she added, do regular checks of the parks as part of day and night shifts. Outside of that, the city responds to complaints from residents as they arise.

“I feel like we are actually doing a pretty good job … but I know you have constituents in neighborhoods that see things we don’t, because they’re out in their neighborhoods,” she said.

Precinct 2 Councilor Daniel Guin said he recently forwarded the mayor photos that had been sent to him by a constituent. He said it wasn’t just “a piece of trash” in the photo; “it was disgusting.”

“I mean, who would use that piece of property over the weekend in the condition it was in?” he said. “I would have left Greenfield if I was coming to Greenfield.”

Guin told councilors he was told the city would send someone over immediately to see what could be done.

“It baffles me we have a piece of property that cost us so much money, and it’s not anyone’s fault, but we have to figure out a solution,” he said.

At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer asked if deploying Porta Potties is an option to curb the use of public spaces for urination or defecation.

Wedegartner said there are currently two portable toilets in the city, one of which is outside the Fire Station on Main Street. The other is at Energy Park.

They are rented, she explained, and based on the way they have been used — partially as a trash receptacle and a place to use drugs — it’s not likely the vendor is interested in continuing to rent with Greenfield.

“We’ve had to lock them and not make them available,” she said, noting the one at the Fire Station can be made available during the day and is closed in the evening.

Wedegartner said the Health Department is considering alternative solutions, including a structure called a Portland Loo — a standalone bathroom.

“They’re expensive, but they do the trick,” Wedegartner said. “They discourage different kinds of bad behavior other than using them for the need to go to the bathroom.”

Wedegartner said that beyond reacting to problems as they arise, each of the departments are working to proactively address the larger issue, both at the parking garage and at local parks. In the Recreation Department, for example, Director Christy Moore has hired four summer workers to pick up trash in the parks.

“They’re a great group of kids, and she said they’re all really excited about what they do,” Wedegartner said.

Health Director Jennifer Hoffman, meanwhile, has worked with Tapestry to put sharps containers in the parks. Hoffman is also planning pop-up health clinics in the fall that will not only provide sexually transmitted disease testing and COVID-19 and flu vaccines to individuals in need, but will also provide education surrounding different public health issues.

“It’s been a really long time since the city of Greenfield has had a Health Department that is that proactive and that committed to public health, and that committed to reaching out,” Wedegartner said.

Guin emphasized the problem is not a matter of the city’s responsiveness, but rather the recurrence of problems.

“What happens is you respond today, and tomorrow, it’s over here, and then we have to respond over there,” he said.

City Council President Penny Ricketts said she is encouraged by the number of reports in the Greenfield Recorder’s police logs seeking assistance in picking up needles on the ground.

“I think that’s education, because other people know, “I guess I can call and they’ll pick it up,’” she said.

Wedegartner said while the individual departments are aware of the problem and are working to find long-term solutions, “it’s not going to be solved overnight.”

“The point of my bringing this up is because we want you to know the city isn’t ignoring this problem in the hopes it will go away,” she said.

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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