Shelter change in the long term Friday, September 29, 2006
D. Craig MacCormack 508-626-4429 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- SMOC officials said yesterday they aren't turning their backs on alcoholics by closing the downtown wet shelter, but will no longer offer a long-term option after Oct. 16.

Gerard Desilets, planning director for the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, said the social service agency will place clients in its Turning Point Shelter for one or two nights in emergencies, but the long-term goal is to get them in situations that will be more beneficial to their recovery.

That means finding a more permanent housing setup in one of SMOC's 20 other programs, which include about 500 beds.

"It's important that no one is ever left at serious risk," said Desilets.  "But, we can't continue putting people in cots and expect them to fully be able to recover from whatever is afflicting them."

In June, SMOC announced a three-year plan aimed at ending homelessness.  The first phase of that plan includes closing the shelter at 105 Irving St. and converting SMOC headquarters at 300 Howard St. into a resource center where its clients can get help finding jobs, homes and other tools for recovery.

Executive Director Jim Cuddy said the agency plans to close one shelter per year as part of the plan.

The demand for beds at the wet shelter generally increases in the winter, said Desilets, but with it being closed, he expects police will bring anyone who needs SMOC's help to Turning Point for a brief stay, after which the person is likely to be asked to enter a detoxification center.

Because no such offering exists in Framingham, Desilets expects most clients who are actively battling alcoholism would go to centers in Westborough or Worcester. Selectman Ginger Esty said she sees SMOC's decision, announced Wednesday, as a major victory in the fight to limit the number of social service agencies that take root in town.

Hopkinton residents recently won a Land Court decision against MetroWest YMCA, which hoped to use Dover Amendment protection to build a health club.  Esty expects more towns to fight projects aiming to use the Dover Amendment.

"There are other things that can be questioned," she said, pointing to Wayside Youth and Family Support Network's proposed project on Lockland Avenue that is being fought in court.  "There will be more challenges."

Esty believes the threat of legal action was enough to make SMOC back down. 

"I believe they've made the right decision for themselves," she said.  "They avoided a test case that would affect siting for similar buildings across the state.  They've had pressure before, which they've ignored, so there has to be another reason why they're closing that shelter at this point."

Desilets, though, pointing to SMOC's plan to end homelessness as the sole reason behind the move.  "Regardless of any legal discussion, the more important part of this is ending homelessness," he said.

Cuddy laughed at Esty's assertion.

"It's not right to take the government's money unless you have a plan," he said.  "We've been working on this plan for a lot longer than the recent brouhaha about this shelter."

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