The Berkshire Eagle  reports more than 80 members of the Northern Berkshire community turned out for a forum Friday to discuss issues facing the region that, they say, need more focus during the coming year.

Those issues include alcohol abuse among adults, tobacco addiction, reducing waste and providing more support to communities of color.

The forum, organized by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, drew people from a variety of agencies and community-based groups, as well as residents of local towns, and representatives of schools and local government.

Wendy Penner, director of prevention and wellness at the NBCC, pointed out that while opioid addiction and youth drug abuse prevention are big issues, more attention should also be paid to the problem of adult alcohol abuse.

Joyce Brewer, a program manager with Berkshire Area Health Education Center, said that addiction to tobacco is still a critical health risk. She noted that North Adams, with a 32 percent rate of smokers among its residents, has the highest rate in the state.

Jim Bush, vice chairman of the Adams Select Board, said there should be some focus on reducing the waste stream and making communities greener.

A north county representative of the NAACP said that people of color in the area are experiencing "horrible" racism in their communities.

Further concerns included better access for seniors and people with disabilities; more education and access for the LGBTQA+ community; more access to transportation for youths; lack of affordable housing; support for the local immigrant population; lack of access to legal services for seniors; and getting younger people more involved in the process of improving the community.

One issue that seemed to be facing many sectors of the community is access to mental health services, amid a lack of mental health professionals in the area. Officials from the Department of Children and Families said it's an especially acute problem for families facing issues of domestic violence, both for the adults and the children who have experienced that trauma.

After the discussion, Besaw noted that NBCC staff will be asking some of these same questions to people on the street, in an effort to get feedback from all sectors of the community.

Then the staff will compile the results and set up volunteer working groups to assail each of the top five issues.

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