[Hpn] NIMBYs attack Boston shelter

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Wed, 17 Oct 2001 09:55:08 -0700


Critical meeting for homeless shelter
Selectman will hear complaints from neighbors

By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff Correspondent, 10/17/2001

FRAMINGHAM - For a year now, according to Joe Gilbert, the elderly and
handicapped residents of his apartment building have lived in fear of the
often intoxicated homeless people who gather at the shelter on the other
side of Irving Street.

''The elderly can't go out because they're always being bothered,'' said
Gilbert, who manages a residence for handicapped and elderly people.

The homeless shelter residents, he said, sometimes drink, smoke, panhandle,
and even follow people into the apartment building across the street when
it's cold outside and the shelter is at capacity.

''Our ultimate goal is to see the shelter gone,'' he said.

Tomorrow night, officials from the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, a
regional social services agency based in Framingham that operates the
homeless shelter at the corner of Irving and Columbia streets, will appear
before the Board of Selectmen to answer questions about the facility's

With at least one member of the board, Selectwoman Ginger Esty, as an ally,
Gilbert and other neighbors have asked Framingham to somehow rein in the
Southside shelter, one of few area facilities that admits homeless men even
if they are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

''Maybe we can require them to have a police person on duty at all times,''
Esty said. ''The building is a wreck. It's horrible. They should not be
running a filthy thing with hypodermic needles and bottles out there.''

Jim Cuddy, executive director of the South Middlesex Opportunity Council,
said the agency had tentative plans to move the homeless shelter to another
building, but was waiting for funding to renovate the structure on Columbia

The shelter ''saves lives,'' Cuddy said. ''We want a good relationship with
the town.'' 

The ''wet'' shelter for single men - that is, for the intoxicated homeless -
moved to its current location one year ago. It is one of two homeless
shelters for single men in town, and the only one that admits intoxicated

The Framingham Interfaith Clergy Association founded the wet shelter in 1993
after an incident in which several homeless people died trying to light a
fire inside a van. 

''The Framingham clergy felt no one should be denied shelter just because
they're under the influence,'' said the Rev. Ellen Tatro, pastor of First
and Park Street Baptist churches.

Clergy banded together to run a wet shelter, first at Grace Church, then at
the Detox Center, then at the Salvation Army, and until last year at the
Park Street Baptist Church.

''It was a huge commitment for a church to run an open shelter every night
of the week,'' Tatro said.

The Interfaith group was glad when the South Middlesex Opportunity Council
assumed control of the shelter last October, she said.

Because of friction with the neighborhood, the Opportunity Council has
considered relocating the shelter and turning the building on Columbia
Street into a group home, Cuddy said.

For Gilbert and other concerned neighbors, such a move couldn't come soon

''I'd like to see SMOC shut it down,'' Gilbert said. ''With the elderly in
the neighborhood, it has to be safe, and it's just not safe right now.
They've caused a lot of problems in the neighborhood.''

Advocates for the homeless plan to turn out in force at tomorrow's Board of
Selectmen meeting to voice their support for a wet facility in town.

''Nobody should sleep outside in the winter,'' said Margo Deane, head of the
Framingham Coalition Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse. ''There's definitely a
need for a wet shelter.''

For Tatro, who was involved in the wet shelter from its inception eight
years ago, what she characterized as today's ''housing crisis'' makes it all
the more imperative that the town provide adequate shelter for those with
nowhere to sleep. 

''My fear is that the wet shelter will be closed down,'' Tatro said. ''Then
we'll be putting these people back out in the weeds, in the train stations,
on the streets.'' 

Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at 508-820-4233 or


This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/17/2001.
 Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

**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.**
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