The social service mud fight continues Friday, September 2, 2005
Rob Haneisen Metrowest Daily News
In a bizarre twist on a story that gets more heated with time, Joe Rizoli on Tuesday told the Daily News that he sent a pamphlet to South Middlesex Opportunity Council Executive Director Jim Cuddy with the picture of a dead body on its cover.

Cuddy told a town sub-committee on Monday about the corpse picture as evidence - he believed - of the atmosphere of hate in town directed at social service agencies, specifically SMOC.  But Cuddy either neglected to tell the group, or didn't notice, that the picture was part of a regular CCFIILE pamphlet on the hazards of immigrants crossing the border in Mexico where hundreds die in the desert each year.

That presents a very different picture of the environment of hate Cuddy vented to the group this week.  CCFIILE have long looked at SMOC as aiding and abetting illegal immigrants so it would seem natural for them to spread their message to Cuddy directly.  The impression other members of the town group had of Cuddy's assertion of Framingham's hateful environment was that the picture of the dead body was a threat.  Instead it simply seems to be more of CCFIILE's campaign against illegal immigrants and those they perceive as supporting them.

This is another gaffe for SMOC.

Two weeks ago, William Taylor, president and CEO of Advocates spoke with the Board of Selectmen to discuss what Advocates does in Framingham, the group homes it operates, etc.  But what Taylor did first was apologize for not attending the Selectmen's Social Service Summit last month where only the Salvation Army participated.

That apology went a long way with people such as Ellen Casey on Ardmore Street.  She lives down the street from the Winter Street building where SMOC wants to put a group home for women recovering from drug addiction.  Casey said she actually listened to what Taylor had to say because it was predicated by an apology for not speaking with selectmen earlier.

It's not that selectmen have any real authority over social service agencies.  No town committee can prevent a social service agency from purchasing a group home in any neighborhood in town, nor should they.  But the Board of Selectmen for some, right or wrong, is a public airing board that serves as a platform to get the word out and have their say.  Opponents of social service agencies probably wanted the agencies to appear before the board whose meetings are broadcast live on cable as way to publicly flog them or ask misleading questions or make outlandish, unverified statements.  Some people may have had legitimate questions or concerns.  All but the Salvation Army showed up.

Gerry Desilets defended SMOC being a no-show by saying the agency responded to the town and said they would not be able to meet at this time because of vacations, etc.

Wayside's president Eric Masi said he won't be there because Wayside is engaged in active litigation about its new youth facility on Lockland Avenue.

So will SMOC eventually have its day before the Board of Selectmen?  They should just get it over with and be completely frank.  Will SMOC ever approach the town about where it should locate a group home?  No, and they shouldn't.  The last thing SMOC should do is take orders from neighbors about whether they can move in to property they legally purchased and use it for group homes which they are legally entitled to do.  The main stumbling block for many is that they feel SMOC or other social service agencies run amok and pay no attention to the effect they have on the community.  That is not true.  SMOC provides services vital to the community and those who live here, as well as those from the surrounding communities who can only find the appropriate social services in Framingham.

The sooner SMOC moves into the Winter Street home, the better.  Host a neighborhood barbecue, invite in the neighbors - not the general public - and focus more on following SMOC's mission than dealing with the hassle of anti-SMOC websites and neighborhood groups defending their home turf.  There is nothing neighborhood groups can do to stop a group home from opening.  The town may delay issuing certain permits until it receives more information but in the end there is no legal means that I know of for them to deny an application.  If anyone knows of a successful case in Massachusetts where neighbors did stop a group home or how this could happen in Framingham, I'd love to hear about it.

When the methadone clinic finally moved in to its downtown location, people feared the worst.  Nothing happened to confirm any of those fears.  Ask the police and they'll say there has been no rise in crime attributed to the methadone clinic or the former addicts who come each day to get the medicine they need to stay off heroin.  Will the group home change the environment on Winter Street?  Of course, but the level of community destruction purported by neighbors or SMOC opponents will likely prove to be false.  The sooner the home opens the sooner this debate will be settled.

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