Memo: Shelter not protected by law Thursday, October 5, 2006
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A memo from the town's former building commissioner to town officials saying the Common Ground Shelter did not deserve Dover Amendment protection was sent the same day SMOC announced it was closing the shelter.

Joe Mikielian, who is now code enforcement officer in Worcester, sent a two-page memo Sept. 27 to Town Manager Julian Suso, Town Counsel Chris Petrini and Mike Foley, who was elevated to acting building commissioner when Mikielian left his Framingham position Friday.

Mikielian wrote "there was very little testimony, documents, or evidence presented...that clearly indicated that 'educational' programming is the primary function or dominant purpose" at Common Ground.

"The primary to offer shelter to individuals who may or may not be presently intoxicated or under the influence of drugs," Mikielian wrote. "Education is only ancillary."

The memo, in which Mikielian said the shelter was not worthy of Dover Amendment protection, marked a reversal of Mikielian's original opinion of SMOC's plans, which allowed the controversial downtown wet shelter to open several years ago.  On the same day of Mikielian's memo, SMOC said it would close the shelter Oct. 16.

Selectman Ginger Esty said last week following SMOC's announcement that the agency was closing the shelter to avoid a legal fight with the town, one that could set the stage for them to be forced to close others in the region.

SMOC officials, though, shot back, saying the closure is part of a long-term plan to end MetroWest homelessness by replacing cot-filled warehouses with more stable housing options for people in need.

The agency hopes to close one shelter per year under the plan it revealed this summer.  The housing-first approach has taken hold nationally and looks at the lack of stable housing as the catalyst for some people getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse, rather than the other way around.

Executive Director Jim Cuddy said earlier in the day he had not seen the memo from Mikielian.  After the Daily News sent him a copy, he said he "disagree(d) with (Mikielian's conclusion)."

"I believe (the shelter) is educational and protected not only under the Dover Amendment, but also by the Americans with Disabilities Act," said Cuddy.

Cuddy was surprised at Mikielian's reversal, saying he had met with him and other town officials the week before announcing the shelter would close and never heard Mikielian mention he felt differently about the program.

"I don't know why he decided what he did," said Cuddy.  "I knew he was doing an investigation, but he didn't mention his opinion when we met."

Efforts to reach Suso and Mikielian yesterday were unsuccessful.

Selectmen Chairman Dennis Giombetti said yesterday he believes it was "just a coincidence" that SMOC's announcement came on the same day as Mikielian's memo, but he believes the social service agency was intimidated by the possibility of a lawsuit.

"I'm sure (Mikielian's reversal) was a factor, because I'm sure that's what they expected," said Giombetti.  "They had said they were planning to close the shelter, but I don't think (what Mikielian wrote) was a surprise."

Send comments to: