SMOC closes doors to outsiders Wednesday, November 23, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Social service agency SMOC has followed through on its promise to cut down on outsiders sleeping at the wet shelter, telling hospitals and detox centers that it can no longer be a resource for those with no ties to MetroWest.

SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy wrote last week to a dozen agencies that have sent people to the shelter, warning them that those from MetroWest will get preference.

People from other cities should be referred to shelters in those areas, he wrote.  According to police, individuals from as far away as Holyoke and Lowell have spent the night at the Irving Street building.

"The bottom line is that the Common Ground (shelter) will no longer operate on an 'open door' basis for new referrals," Cuddy wrote.

"During the past six months, there has been a significant increase in the community problems caused by a number of Common Ground guests.  These problems have resulted in a negative impact on quality of life issues for the Framingham community."

Police Chief Steven Carl yesterday credited Cuddy for writing the letter and making "a good faith effort to work with us."  The Police Department has been recently monitoring where shelter guests come from.  In October, at least half were from outside the Framingham area.

"I've been outspoken about the fact that I'm concerned we have enough issues without attracting more problems," Carl said.

The SMOC letter was written last week, just days before police encountered a man who told them he was released from a hospital in upstate New York and came to Framingham to stay at the shelter.

On Nov. 16, according to Carl, police received a medical call on Waverley Street.  The man, whose name was not released, said he was treated at St. Luke's Hospital for a substance abuse problem and had a "voucher" for the shelter.  There is a St. Luke's Corwall Hospital in Newburgh, N.Y., south of Poughkeepsie.

SMOC, however, does not use vouchers at the shelter, according to Planning Director Gerard Desilets, who said the man has lived in Framingham on and off for the last six to eight years.

Cuddy outlines in his letter other screening guidelines for the shelter.  These include a background check by police for outstanding warrants and a requirement that classified sex offenders register with police within 24 hours.

Cuddy also warns that anyone who causes "disturbances" in town or is arrested by police will be banned. Desilets said the new regulations will push providers to develop discharge plans for clients instead of merely sending them to Framingham or dropping them off here.  That has happened in the past, something Desilets called "inappropriate."

"We realize there will continue to be public scrutiny on this.  We understand that and will continue to work with the community to respond to their concerns," he said.

One of the providers contacted by SMOC, AdCare Hospital in Worcester, sends about 10 to 12 people each month to the shelter, where they stay while getting outpatient care.  Jim McKenna, the vice president of marketing, said the new rules giving preference to those from MetroWest would mean one less resource for the hospital.

McKenna did not immediately know how many of the hospital's referrals are from outside MetroWest, but he cautioned that AdCare does not use the shelter as a "dumping ground" for patients.  It uses facilities across the state, he said.

"It bothers us because it could affect the client," he said about the new screening rules.  "We'll find placements, but it will be more difficult."

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