Wet shelter education in question Friday, August 25, 2006
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Town officials were surprised to learn last week that SMOC's educational activities at the downtown wet shelter are limited, not only in the number of days they are offered but in the programs provided.

The shelter, in the crosshairs with selectmen who are pushing to close it for failing to comply with the Dover Amendment use under which it claims to be protected, offers no educational offerings on weekends, but Executive Director Jim Cuddy said yesterday there is a wide array of offerings during the week.

They include substance abuse consultations, mental health meetings, outreach opportunities, legal service, housing searches and more, he said.

"As far as I know, most schools aren't open on weekends either," said Cuddy.

Cuddy and SMOC attorney Jim Hanrahan will meet Tuesday morning with Town Manager Julian Suso, Town Counsel Chris Petrini and Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian about the educational component of the Common Ground shelter.

Cuddy said he asked the Police Department to send a representative to that meeting so they can explain what he calls "harassment" of shelter clients in recent weeks, including interviews inside and outside the shelter about how much education is provided.

After reviewing the shelter's schedule, Mikielian said, "There's not very much going on there" that would qualify the shelter for Dover Amendment protection.  The schedule is limited to half-days five days a week, he said.

While there are no formal activities at the shelter on weekends, some of the program's participants have terms in their treatment plans that require them to attend programs on those days, said Hanrahan.

Most of the shelter's residents, he said, have daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, including on the weekends.

The police, said Suso in an earlier interview, are being deployed to make sure there is some educational component to the shelter.

A schedule sent to Mikielian in July showed classes at the shelter all day Saturday and Sunday, said Suso yesterday, so town officials had " ome cause for concern" when they saw the revised version showing the shelter is closed on those days.

"You begin to see why all of these questions are being asked," said Suso.  "It's somewhat intriguing that so many changes had occurred in a three-week period.  It generates some legitimate and reasonable inquiries."

Cuddy said there are no immediate plans to close the shelter, adding he isn't surprised town officials are looking to shutter the building as soon as possible.

"We're qualified under both state and federal statutes to be doing what we re doing in that building," said Cuddy.  "But I can't stop (town officials) from challenging it."

Mikielian said it's "too early to tell" if town officials will push to close the shelter.  Petrini had told selectmen they could be facing an uphill battle in the fight to close the shelter and should encourage a neighbor to file a complaint about the agency violating local zoning laws to Mikielian to strengthen its legal footing.

Without Dover Amendment protection, SMOC would need a special permit for the Irving Street shelter, Mikielian said.

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