Shelter tightens tracking policies
SMOC, town reach agreement
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Author Lisa Kocian 508-820-4231 Globe West
A controversial Framingham homeless shelter has agreed to tighten its procedures by keeping better track of who is staying there, checking clients for outstanding arrest warrants, and more closely monitoring those who are convicted sex offenders.

The changes at the Common Ground shelter on Irving Street were made after meetings of officials from the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which runs the shelter, with the town manager and the police chief.

"We told SMOC we needed a plan to resolve the policing problems the shelter is bringing to the community," Town Manager George P. King Jr. said.  "We're pleased with the progress SMOC made."

Critics say the shelter is a trouble spot in a downtown area that the town is hoping to revitalize.

GlobeWest recently reported that seven of the town's 20 Level 3 sex offenders listed the shelter as their home address on the state's sex offender registry website.  Level 3 is a state classification given to the offenders deemed most likely to commit another sex crime.

Another three less-dangerous Level 2 offenders also lived there, as well as two sex offenders whose dangerousness hasn't been determined, police said recently.

Critics have been concerned that Framingham's shelter -- a "wet shelter" that accepts people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol -- is taking on more than its fair share of the region's substance abusers.

King said SMOC has also agreed to clamp down on referrals to the shelter from other agencies.

"Referrals to the shelter from outside SMOC will be carefully screened and substantially curtailed or altogether eliminated," King said.

James Cuddy, executive director of SMOC, described the meetings with town officials as positive.

"We're talking with agencies who are referring clients to the [shelter], and if there's not a reason for those clients to be here, we're going to have a conversation with those referring agencies," he said.

Asked if that means SMOC will ask other agencies to stop referring people to the shelter who aren't from Framingham, Cuddy said, "I think we will brainstorm with them about what they can do."

Cuddy acknowledged that some sex offenders are staying at the shelter.  But he has said there are not as many as the state's sex offender registry indicates.

Shelter officials now plan to require every client to carry a photo ID.  The IDs will be used to keep track of who's staying there, and officials say that policy should clarify such questions in the future.

Selectman John Stasik said he's uncomfortable with the idea of turning anyone away from the wet shelter and also uneasy about the photo ID requirement, which, he said, smacked of a "police state."

But he said he understands the need for SMOC and the town to know who is in the shelter.  And he said that over the long term he hopes that SMOC will agree to move the shelter.

"I think that we definitely need a place to put people who are either under the influence of alcohol or drugs," he said.

But Stasik said that streets near the shelter "have a number of families on them."

"It's just not the best location," he said.  "People sort of hang around on the outside.  Kids who are walking around or people who are walking around can sometimes be intimidated by that."

Stasik said that most communities aren't good locations for shelters and will probably never have them, but he said that those communities and the state should help towns like Framingham that are shouldering the burden of helping people in need.

The community has a responsibility to provide for people in need but it also has to protect the public, he said.

"The ideal situation," Stasik said, "would be to have adequate funding so there are professionals located in these places 24 hours, with appropriate security that is funded by the public for purposes of protecting the public."

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