Shelter reforms leads to arrests Tuesday, November 15, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Fifteen people have been permanently banned from the wet shelter downtown since the town and the social service agency that runs it put in place new screening procedures at the beginning of October.

Police and officials from social service provider SMOC lauded the new rules as a step toward making the shelter and the community safer, though they acknowledge some holes in the system.

"I do think there's a new sense of being certain that people living in the shelter are living by the rules of the shelter, and also if they're within the Framingham community that they behave themselves in the community," said Gerard Desilets, SMOC's planning director.

According to Desilets and police, a handful of people at the shelter have been arrested on outstanding warrants, though an exact number was not available yesterday.

Since the new policy went into effect Oct. 1, police check whether shelter newcomers have warrants and arrest them if they do.  While police support that practice, they say it can be tightened.

Deputy Chief Ken Ferguson said SMOC forwards the names of newcomers on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving open the possibility that someone could stay there and leave before police do a background check.

"It's better than nothing, but what I think would be better is if we can do a warrant check while the person is still there," he said.

Ferguson cautioned that the system is developing.

"We're going to try to tweak it.  Remember, we just started this.  Things aren't going to happen overnight," he said.

The warrant check, Desilets said, ensures the shelter remains emergency housing for the homeless, "not a shelter from the criminal justice system. " He expects word to spread about the checks, cutting down on the number of people who might use the shelter "as a hiding place."

Only two of the 15 people who have been banned had outstanding warrants that were not cleared up, Desilets said.  Some of the others violated rules that were already in place, including fighting in the shelter and using drugs there.  Two were arrested on charges of theft and shoplifting.

Police Chief Steven Carl said he wants SMOC to refuse those who are not from the Framingham area and who have violent criminal histories.

"We should not be bringing people to our town who are going to add to our problems," he said.

SMOC is working to ensure this change, according to Desilets.  He said the agency is talking with hospitals and detox centers about making appropriate discharges and referrals.  Someone with a criminal history released from a detox center in New Bedford, for example, should not wind up at the Framingham shelter, he said.

Although he declined to give names, Desilets said some providers have simply dropped clients off downtown without contacting SMOC.

"Clearly our discussion with providers will be, 'You need to develop relationships with agencies in other parts of the state as well,'" he said.

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