Northampton moves to clear out Pulaski Park after beating

  • A woman who has been living in the Pulaski Park vicinity for the summer holds up the site cleanup notice, which applies to tents and personal items, passed out to homeless people in the area Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sam Averill talks about the fight he witnessed in Pulaski Park Monday night that ended with a victim hospitalized. Averill took video and called the police during the incident. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ryan Paine talks about the fight he witnessed in Pulaski Park that ended with a victim hospitalized. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A woman who has been living in the Pulaski Park vicinity for the summer holds up the site clean-up notice, which applies to tents and personal items, passed out to homeless people in the area. Behind her, a police officer reads the notice while negotiating removal of a tent holding personal items of some of the people in the area. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ryan Paine and Sam Averill talk about the fight they witnessed Monday in Pulaski Park that ended with a victim hospitalized. Averill took video and called the police during the incident. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A tent is pitched in the grass in front of Memorial Hall with personal items of some of the people who have been sleeping in Northampton’s Pulaski Park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • KB McConnell  talks about the challenges of where people should go after the city issued a clean-up notice requiring personal items to be removed from Pulaski Park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ryan Paine and Sam Averill talk about the fight they witnessed in Pulaski Park that ended with a victim hospitalized. Averill pulls up video he took during the incident. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The woman who moved a tent with her and others’ personal items in front of Memorial Hall talks about the challenges of where to go after the city issued a clean-up notice requiring personal items to be removed from Pulaski Park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Northampton police officers talk Wednesday with people in Pulaski Park, some of whom have been sleeping in the area, about options for where to go after the city issued a cleanup notice requiring personal items to be removed from the park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • KB McConnell listens as a woman who moved a tent in front of Memorial Hall talks about the challenges of where to go next after the city issued a clean-up notice requiring personal items to be removed from Pulaski Park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2021 6:33:50 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Following an attack in Pulaski Park that left a man with head injuries, the city is taking steps to enforce ordinances against sleeping and storing personal possessions at the downtown public park overnight.

On Tuesday, the city announced that it would contract with a private company to “clear up and dispose of all trash found on site,” according to a public notice that advocates and police officers hand-delivered to homeless people living in the park on Main Street.

“All items left in Pulaski Park tomorrow will be removed,” the notice reads. “The site will be cleaned up regularly going forward.”

Mayor David Narkewicz said Wednesday that the city’s goal is to make Pulaski Park “safe for everyone, including houseless individuals,” and the decision to clear trash on a regular basis is based on “sanitation,” not a direct response to the beating of a man on Monday night.

Man punched repeatedly

The Gazette viewed a cellphone video of the attack captured by Sam Averill, a city resident. The video shows the victim trying to walk away from a man who is confronting him; the victim yells “stop” and “tell me why” several times.

Toward the end of the four-minute video, the man punches the victim in the face, causing him to fall and hit his head on the sidewalk. A second man then becomes involved, punching the victim repeatedly while he is lying on his back. A bystander intervenes and the video ends, at which point Averill said he called the police.

The victim was taken to Baystate Medical Center. His condition was not immediately clear on Wednesday afternoon.

Northampton police arrested Duane Smith, 22, and Alpha Randolph, 32, charging each with assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (concrete sidewalk) and disorderly conduct.

“What broke my heart the most is that the poor man’s mother came to the park the morning after,” said Ryan Paine, who also has been sleeping at the park. “She talked about, he gets into trouble sometimes, but it’s never this bad. His mom got all of his belongings back, so he’ll be able to receive that when he gets out of the hospital.”

Narkewicz said the city recently has seen an “uptick” in the number of police responses and informal citizen complaints regarding activity at the park.

Housing crisis hits home

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide eviction moratorium issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there is no state moratorium in place at this time, although the COVID-19 Housing Equity Bill is still working its way through the Legislature. The bill would add protections for tenants, landlords and homeowners facing pandemic-related financial hardship.

As the pandemic grinds on with no apparent end in sight to the economic consequences, Narkewicz said that area shelters are at capacity, and the city is working with nonprofits including Eliot Community Human Services and Manna Community Kitchen to assist the homeless as much as possible.

“We’re all talking about this as a region. When we talk to our sister communities up and down the Valley, this is an issue that’s happening throughout,” Narkewicz said. “These are the human effects (of the pandemic) that we’re seeing on our streets. … We continue to urge folks who are facing housing insecurity to contact some of these agencies.”

KB McConnell, founder of the harm reduction nonprofit Nothing But Kindness, said that emergency housing vouchers awarded to Northampton through federal funding are already “spoken for,” although the recipients are not housed yet. Manna operates 24 storage lockers inside the E.J. Gare Parking Garage that are available for use by the homeless; McConnell, who works closely with Manna, said all of the lockers are already “overstuffed.”

“I just need a dry place to lay my head tonight,” said a woman who has been living in a tent at Pulaski Park and declined to give her name because she is a domestic violence survivor. “I’m trying to think of places we haven’t already been kicked out of.”

The woman was allowing other homeless people to store their belongings in her tent temporarily as they tried to figure out somewhere else to stay. Some discussed moving to a spot behind businesses on King Street, but the woman said people were worried about dirty needles and broken bottles, among other health and safety hazards that they expect to find.

Juliette St. Marie said she has an indoor place to sleep at night “by the good graces of a friend,” but she still has no fixed address. She said that getting housing requires income, and working costs money; before showing up for a shift, she would need clean clothes and a consistent place to shower, plus a steady supply of deodorant, toothpaste and much more to make herself presentable.

“The city has been working very hard to understand the situation that folks are in,” Narkewicz said. “When it comes to Pulaski Park, which is a small downtown park that is governed by ordinances regarding staying overnight … we need to enforce that in order to keep the park accessible for all.”

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


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