Homeless camp remains as construction looms in Northampton

  • Several tents were set up in an encampment Monday under the South Street bridge in Northampton. As of Friday, the area had not been cleared. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/17/2021 8:00:54 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The Roundhouse municipal parking lot is fully fenced off as workers prepare to expand and repave it, while less than 50 feet away still sits the homeless tent encampment that Mayor David Narkewicz wanted vacated by Thursday.

MASS-WEST Construction, the contractor for the project, which requires a temporary rerouting of the bike path, has begun to stage equipment in the parking lot. The tents are on the edges of the bike path under the nearby South Street Bridge.

City officials asked the settlers to move due to concerns for their health and safety, Narkewicz has said, and gave a deadline of July 15. Narkewicz said Monday that he “did not foresee any formal eviction action” if the deadline was missed.

The Gazette interviewed three of the half-dozen settlers at the encampment this week: Charles “C.J.” Cummings, Jim Bushey and Eric Anderson. On Friday morning, only Bushey had moved out. His tent was not in its usual place, and Cummings said he was unsure where Bushey went.

Cummings, 45, said his status as a Level 3 sex offender makes it difficult and time-consuming to find work and housing. The day after the deadline, he said he had no idea where to go next.

“A lot of us are working, but we don’t want to spend a couple hundred bucks on a hotel for a few nights and then have nowhere to go. Housing takes time,” Cummings said.

A dumpster used by the settlers, privately owned by a downtown apartment building, has been moved in recent days, and trash is starting to pile up at the encampment. The settlers said they were hoping the city would provide trash bags so they could clean up after themselves.

When the Gazette mentioned this request to Alan Wolf, chief of staff to the mayor, he said he would solve the problem right away.

“I’ll go bring them some bags right now,” said Wolf, reached by phone at City Hall. He said the city has a special cleanup crew that safely handles sharp objects, and they were expecting to clean up the site themselves. “I’ll get in my car and go get some contractor bags from my house,” he said.

A portable toilet the city had placed near the bike path during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public bathrooms were closed, was picked up this week by a city crew because the public health emergency is over, Wolf said. There were four such toilets placed throughout the city, and all have been removed.

Wolf reiterated that Narkewicz is not planning to evict the camp, but said that “everyone who is not a professional construction worker” needs to avoid the area.

“The area is closed to bikers, drivers and campers. The hope is that none of those will be there when this work is going on,” Wolf said.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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