Wet shelter draws from outside Framingham Wednesday, November 16, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- The wet shelter downtown was home to more outsiders than people from around Framingham last month, based on information collected by police.

Out of 99 people staying at the shelter in October, about a third were from the Framingham area, according to a police presentation made to selectmen last night.  More than half, 52, were from outside the area, and 14 could not provide reliable identifying information.

Police Chief Steven Carl said he defined the Framingham area as Milford and the towns bordering Framingham as well as Holliston and Hopkinton.

The stats appeared to back up the shelter's critics, who often complain that it draws people to town with no connection to Framingham or MetroWest.  Of those who provided reliable information to police, 40 had criminal records with more than 20 entries.

Carl told selectmen that SMOC, the agency that runs the shelter, is working to improve referrals and cut down on the number of "career criminals" who are from "way outside Framingham."

"We can run a successful shelter that doesn't detract from the community too badly if we do it appropriately," he said.

Police are also more aggressive this year in getting information about homeless people who are arrested, Carl said.  When people say they are homeless, booking officers press them about exactly where they are staying and where they are from.

As a result, 105 people have given their address as the wet shelter on Irving Street this year -- compared with 15 in 2001.

The October breakdown for those staying at the shelter was in line with that for Aug. 16.  A police check that night found that of 21 guests, seven were from the Framingham area and 14 were from outside the area.

Carl's presentation to the board also touched on police staffing levels and crime statistics.  Some board members have argued crime, particularly downtown, is a top concern among residents, but Carl told them downtown is safer than it was 10 years ago.

"The fear of crime is greater than the realities," he said.

According to the presentation, Framingham's violent crime rate is the same as that for Massachusetts and well below the national average.

Selectman Dennis Giombetti asked about the apparent rise in shootings around town, which he said was "unnerving" to people.  Carl said gun crimes are a growing trend across the country.

Giombetti also called for making police staffing a priority in the next budget.  According to the presentation, Framingham has fewer cops than Brookline and Waltham, yet has a bigger population and more violent crime.

"We work harder. We do more," he said.

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