[Hpn] Unruly nights, need 4 more beds threatens ... haven 4 heroin addicts, alcoholics
Morgan W. Brown
Sun, 18 Nov 2001 01:28:47 -0500
As another follow-up, below is a forward of an article published today
(Sunday, November 18, 2001) in the MetroWest Daily News concerning the South
Opportunity Council <http://www.smoc.org> wet shelter in Framingham
<http://www.framinghamma.org> Massachusetts which may be of interest.
Morgan W. Brown
Sunday, November 18, 2001
MetroWest Daily News <http://www.metrowestdailynews.com>
Local News section
Unruly nights, need for more beds threatens Framingham's haven for heroin
By Heather Anderson
Sunday, November 18, 2001
FRAMINGHAM - On a recent Tuesday night, a local man - so drunk that he wet
his pants - was poured into an ambulance at 7:40 p.m. and carted away from a
"wet" shelter on the corner of Columbia and Irving streets.
Across the alley, a fourth-floor apartment dweller pulled down his shade,
most likely to block out flashing police lights and the commotion below.
It's nights like these that fuel Joe Gilbert's fight to rid the neighborhood
of a shelter that takes in homeless drunks, heroin addicts and other lost
"There are over 100 units of elderly residents between our building and the
one across the street," said Gilbert, property manager of 75 Irving Square
"I'd love to see the shelter moved. The headaches that all the people in the
neighborhood have had to put up with ... enough is enough."
And yet, homeless advocates said nights like that Tuesday, when the
temperature on the MetroWest Bank clock read 36 degrees, are proof positive
the shelter is a critical downtown fixture.
"If he stayed out tonight, he might have froze," shelter overseer Charlie
Corbett, a South Middlesex Opportunity Council employee, said about the
"At least he came to a place he could get help. This is the net that catches
Corbett, 49, should know.
A former house painter who grew up in Framingham, Corbett said he bellied up
to the bar more often than he painted, slept in his van for a year, and
finally sobered up four years ago thanks to the agency he now works for.
"His body isn't working right," said Corbett, standing beneath a flickering
streetlight and nodding toward the ambulance. "He's in danger of his own
self. Better to get him hydrated at the hospital."
Once home to Liberty's Grocery Store, the shelter - its windows boarded up
with plywood and spray-painted black - opened on Irving Street 13 months
Before that, the wet shelter existed for a decade in Framingham church
basements and at the Salvation Army. Volunteers ran it until SMOC - a social
service agency on Howard Street - took over in 1996.
Today, its location is turning into a turf war.
"Of course they need a place, but maybe in an isolated area so they're not a
nuisance," said Kishore Shah, 72, whose living room faces the shelter.
Every evening, Shah and his wife sat on Irving Square Apartments' park
benches for hours, he said, until the homeless usurped the park.
"We've stopped sitting there," said Shah, a prisoner in his own home.
Unlike other local shelters, the Irving Street shelter is "wet" meaning
those who drink or do drugs are allowed inside. It also serves as an
"overflow" shelter. When other places fill up, staff send the homeless here.
Last year, the shelter averaged 12 occupants a night. On Tuesday, 46 people
- six of them women - had checked in by 10 p.m., closing time.
The shelter, said critics, has become a magnet for out-of-town substance
abusers looking for a handout.
But Boston's Philip Mangano, director of the Massachusetts Housing and
Shelter Alliance, counters that people "want to fool themselves" into
thinking the homeless are from somewhere else.
"Truth is, most are a product of the community," he said, adding that
downtown Framingham would be populated by drunks at night if the shelter
"They're in a room getting help," he said. "That's the first step to getting
out of a life of addiction. And sometimes the first step must be tolerated
before other steps can be taken."
More people are sleeping in homeless shelters this year, Mangano added, than
ever before in Massachusetts' history.
"Community acceptance is always an issue," said Jim Cuddy, SMOC's executive
Eventually, his agency plans to turn 90 Irving St. into a group home for
sober, once-homeless residents.
In the interim, said Cuddy, SMOC has "diligently" addressed neighbors'
complaints about public urination, trash and noise.
"We're trying to take care of disadvantaged people who live in this
community," he said from his Howard Street office. "A significant amount owe
their life to the overflow shelter."
And yet, Framingham's Deputy Building Commissioner James Sheehan intimates
that a significant amount had better find shelter elsewhere.
Acting on a complaint from Selectman Ginger Esty followed by an inspection,
Sheehan sent a letter to SMOC Wednesday, stating that building code
violations "need to be corrected immediately."
Thirty-six cots - 11 more than approved - and outdated fire extinguishers.
"You are hereby ordered to reduce the number of cots to 25," Sheehan wrote,
"and provide a clear path of travel to all egress immediately."
Location, location, location
According to a source, complaints about the shelter first surfaced this
summer when Richard Trank, the most vociferous abutter, tried to sell his
multi-unit office building next door.
When one deal went south, Trank bent the ear of town officials.
Selectman Esty sympathized. She is a vocal opponent of "wet" shelters, and
opposes the shelter's downtown location.
"This is a dumping ground for SMOC," said Esty on Friday, an hour before a
closed-door meeting with neighbors and SMOC officials.
"You must be blind and dumb not to see that the way this is being run is not
desirable in any neighborhood."
If Framingham must have a wet shelter, she added, it should be in a remote
area - "not near bars and package stores, and where people are trying to
live and conduct business."
Trank - whose property was listed with Horne Realty for $329,000 and is now
under agreement - did not return calls seeking comment.
In August, police videotaped the homeless loitering on Columbia Street and
urinating behind a nearby Dumpster.
Police supposedly made the tape - which aired at town hall on Nov. 2 - from
a 9-year-old girl's bedroom window overlooking the shelter.
"She has become severely traumatized and is under intense psychiatric care,"
said Charles Edward, owner of 73-81 Irving St.
"Shame on the Board of Selectmen, SMOC, property owners and residents who
saw this videotape, and did not immediately do everything in their power to
rectify this situation," he said.
Gilbert, his property manager, said he does not want the shelter shut down -
just moved "someplace else."
Speaking in an empty community lounge, Gilbert said he locks the lounge door
at 5 now instead of 10 p.m., because the homeless - searching for someplace
to go after supping at the Salvation Army and before the shelter opens at 8
p.m. - trespassed and intimidated residents one too many times.
"The elderly are defenseless against these people," Gilbert said.
He suggests a location closer to MCI-Framingham, the women's prison located
about a mile from downtown.
Meanwhile, Chris Jones, bunking down at the wet shelter Tuesday, accuses
Gilbert of passing the buck. More specifically, of sticking it to another
"It's NIMBYism (Not-In-My-Back-Yard)," said Jones, 35, adding that a drug
habit and a recent dispute at a Franklin Street rooming house have left him
"A couple billion can be raised for the victims of the World Trade Center,"
he said. "But when it comes to showing compassion for your neighbor or a
local problem such as homelessness, it just seems people can't be bothered."
Jones - like many vying to use the shelter's one shower Tuesday night - said
the shelter is a five-minute walk from Labor Ready, a temporary job agency
that hires many of the area's homeless.
The shelter is also a stone's throw from the Salvation Army, where the
homeless people eat supper and attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
To move it, they argue, would be impractical.
"It's a long walk from here to MCI-Framingham," Jones said, adding that most
homeless people don't own cars.
"Granted, this isn't structured like a sober shelter where there's a
breathalyzer," he continued. "But it's not a den of iniquity, either. It's
basically a place to sleep and take a shower and get some food."
Waltham's Sarah Hanafin, an 18-year-old with green hair who described
herself as the product of poorly run group homes, said that if the shelter
were to close, "a lot more people would be in jail just to be warm."
Sleeping here intermittently for the past eight months, Hanafin called the
Irving Street shelter "a lifesaver," its occupants "like family."
"I feel safe here," she said.
Amid mild protests though, Hanafin pointed out that a wet shelter operating
between Connery's Bar and three liquor stores isn't ideal for those trying
to get sober.
As she spoke, someone shouted "20 minutes 'til last smoke." A cool breeze
rushed in, as residents rushed out for one last cigarette before bed.
Joe, a 42-year-old with missing front teeth and a cowboy hat, waited until
last to speak to an observer.
He sided with Gilbert.
Living at the shelter for a year, Joe, a seven-year Framingham resident who
would not give his last name, said neighbors have legitimate gripes.
"This needs to be a controlled wet shelter - SMOC needs more oversight,"
said Joe, adding that one person is in charge at night when at least two are
The shelter "should be in another location - somewhere where there is
transportation," he said, adding in a hushed voice, "I can understand the
elderly. It gets noisy here."
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com/intl.asp