Tape of shelter misbehavior to be shown before hearing Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Rob Haneisen Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - Seeing will apparently be believing.

A police surveillance tape that shows homeless people urinating, defecating and littering outside of and around the Irving Street shelter will be available for public viewing at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Memorial Building.

The fact that the tape is so "disgusting" it cannot be broadcast on the local cable television should speak for itself, said Selectman Ginger Esty.  She said the tape will be available at the board's meeting that same night for those who want to view it.

"If it can't be shown on cable, then it shouldn't have to be lived next to.  They've lived through insufferable conditions," said Esty, who has only heard about, but not seen, the tape.

"I think everyone that is adult enough should be given the chance to see it so that everyone is on the same page and everyone had the same information."

Neighbors on Irving and Columbia streets have continually complained to selectmen and police about the illicit behaviors, and said they are intimidated by the transients who actively drink and use drugs.

South Middlesex Opportunity Council staff - who operate what they call an overflow shelter - will appear before selectmen for a hearing to determine what can be done to improve the situation.

Esty said the overflow shelter is really a "wet" shelter, which she claims has no place in a residential neighborhood.

"I do not approve of the "wet" shelter," Esty said.  "A homeless shelter is one thing.  A "wet" shelter is not manageable.  We're enabling them. We're not trying to get them any treatment."

A "wet" shelter allows transients who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol to spend the night.

SMOC executive director James Cuddy said the shelter serves a need and prevents the homeless from dying by spending the night outdoors in harsh weather.  The shelter, which is operating legally under state laws, can fit up to 40 people.

When told of Cuddy's concerns and the possibility of death to homeless drunks, Esty said, "Well, that's true, they might.  But are we providing as a community places for these people to creep into?"

Esty's other concerns about the shelter include supervision of guests and the possibility of sexual predators spending the night.

Esty said the shelter should be moved to the prison and its guests "taken to the hospital or a place where they can dry out."

Selectmen Chairman John Kahn disagrees with moving the shelter.

"We can't quarantine the problem," he said.

Police have responded to dozens of calls at the shelter and in its immediate vicinity, a fact Esty said stretches the town's resources.

Town Manager George King said police have been watching the shelter both before and after the complaints began rolling in.

"No one has tried to suggest in any way that the complaints are not valid," King said.  "I think what we need to focus on is a way to resolve this situation for everyone."

King said he believes SMOC will be open to suggestions and Cuddy said last week he is willing to work with the town.

King disputes allegations the shelter is used by many from outside the area and outside the state.

"Many of the people serviced by (the shelter) are residents of the town," he said.

Selectmen Chairman John Kahn agreed with King and added, "There's no doubt we are dealing with the hard core of the (homeless population) problem."

Kahn and Esty - frequently on opposite sides of an argument - are already edging for a fight before Thursday's meeting.

The two exchanged numerous e-mails over the weekend, debating how to hold the hearing.

"I don't see resolution in banging heads together," Kahn said.  "(Esty) wants to focus on this particular problem.  I'll agree to focus on this but we can't deal with this in isolation of the town's homeless population problems."

Kahn's suggested short term resolution would be for the shelter to post "house rules" regarding conduct and to ban anyone who violates them.

"No matter what a person's addictive state, by and large they have some responsibility for their own conduct," he said.

Cuddy has said the shelter has removed problem individuals from the shelter.

Kahn hopes the meeting can stay productive.

"I don't intend it to be a 'beat up' session on anybody, including Ginger," he said.

Kahn and Esty's e-mail trading began this weekend with Kahn outlining how he thought the hearing should proceed to keep the session orderly and focused.

Ginger then responded about not wanting to give SMOC an opportunity to "present their big picture."

The two then traded e-mails about the same subject, with Kahn saying he would forward copies to selectmen Charlie Sisitsky and Esther Hopkins.

At one point, Esty writes, " ... I do not approve of any attempts to dilute the earnest requests for help from the tax payers in that neighborhood. I view your suggestions of the meeting management as falling into that category."

To which Kahn responded, "I trust you will understand the importance of not only decorous conduct but the Board's approaching this complex situation in a constructive way - looking toward a solution rather than inflaming already sensitive issues."

After nearly two days of e-mail correspondence, Esty notes she is "uneasy about continuing our e-mails as they seem to be skirting close to open meeting law violations."

Kahn's response includes a promise to provide copies of all the e-mails to the selectman's office to be entered into the public record.  Both Esty and Kahn also provided copies of the e-mails to the MetroWest Daily News.

(News staff writer Jennifer Rosinski contributed to this report.)

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