SMOC waits for veterans facility approval

SMOC waits for veterans facility approval Saturday, January 5, 2008
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM - SMOC officials Thursday welcomed area veterans to the agency's proposed home for homeless veterans, saying they hope Larry's Place will be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals later this year.

The building at 90 Lincoln St. is being used as office space for now, said Executive Director Jim Cuddy, but he envisions a day when the program for 19 people will open and provide something unique in the region.

"I feel really, really good about what a resource this will become," said Cuddy, noting the nearest housing program for veterans is in Worcester County.  "It doesn't matter where you stand on the Iraq war or on Vietnam.  What matters is where you stand on services for these men and women."

Larry's Place is named after Larry Mace, a former SMOC client who lived in sober housing until his death.  Shortly before he died, Mace asked to go back to the sober house where he had lived, saying he wanted to be comfortable, said Cuddy.  He pushed SMOC officials to build a program specifically for vets.

More than 500 veterans are enrolled in SMOC programs today, said Cuddy.

"This is a building named after a veteran who just wanted to come home," said John O'Brien, a Vietnam veteran who is now regional coordinator of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

"We're leaving some of our wounded behind.  We're sentencing these homeless veterans to a life without parole on the streets or in emergency shelters.  To be able to put your head on your own pillow is very important," he said.

Natick Veterans Director John MacGillivray applauded SMOC's effort but said more needs to be done to help veterans find homes when they return from service.  Framingham Veterans Council Vice Chairman Al Blais agreed there is a lack of offerings for local veterans.

"When I see veterans in trouble, I think that could be someone who helped me and wonder what I can do to help them," said Larry Erickson, a Vietnam veteran who works at Framingham Co-operative Bank and is on the SMOC board of directors.

In September, Building Commissioner Mike Foley rejected the application by South Middlesex Opportunity Council, saying there was no educational component to the program despite the application's Dover Amendment request.

The Dover Amendment limits the amount of local scrutiny on educational and religious building projects.  The Zoning Board of Appeals will continue its hearing on SMOC's appeal Jan. 22.

Cuddy is confident the program will eventually be allowed to open and points to its location - across from MetroWest Medical Center and near the Framingham Public Library and the MetroWest Regional Transportation Authority.

If the zoning board overturns Foley's reject, SMOC plans a $1 million overhaul of the building, which it bought from Wayside Youth and Family Support Network two years ago.

"We're ready to go," said Cuddy.

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