Social service debate rages on Friday, February 3, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
Friday, February 3, 2006 - Updated: 12:57 AM EST FRAMINGHAM -- A procession of SMOC clients last night pleaded with a town committee to recognize the value of social service providers, describing how the local agency helped them beat drug and alcohol addictions and rebuild their lives.

More than 100 people crowded into a Memorial Building hearing room to weigh in on social service agencies.  While some complained that they are a burden to the town, many lauded SMOC for helping them to become productive members of the community.

"SMOC gave me my life back when no one else would," Renee Connolly Lesieur told the PILOT committee, which is studying the impact of social services on the town.

SMOC and other local agencies have come under intense scrutiny for much of the last year.  Critics complain the nonprofits have saturated Framingham, becoming a drag on local services and costing the town tax dollars by buying properties.

"Why is Framingham really becoming the stomping ground for this?" Jason Smith said.  "Why have other communities around closed their doors?"

Town Meeting member Alex Capone said a resident of Bethany Hill School robbed his house.  Paula Correia, also a Town Meeting member, told of the liquor bottles strewn around her downtown neighborhood and waking up to find people urinating on her property.

"The changes we see are horrible," she said.  "We have no quality of life."

But defenders of the agencies say people have found jobs, become taxpayers and are giving back to Framingham with help from social service organizations.  Debbie Savarese, who lives in a Hollis Street sober home, said SMOC and Framingham "have become my family."

Social service clients are quietly working throughout the community, doing jobs like driving cabs and dry cleaning clothes, said Brian Walker, a former alcoholic who got sober with help from SMOC.

"I earn my money here in Framingham, and I spend my money here in Framingham," Walker said.

Lloyd Kaye, who has closely followed the PILOT committee's work, angrily criticized those who focus on outsiders who come to Framingham for services, saying he finds that tendency "insulting."

"This is real life.  These are real people.  This is Framingham," he said about those in the hearing room.

While much of the focus last night was on SMOC, the PILOT committee is examining many other organizations.  Besides studying the impact they have on the town, the committee is also charged with researching a program for collecting payments in lieu of taxes.  Its final report is due this spring.

Some argued the town could not afford the expansion of social service providers without such voluntary payments.  Janice Skelley, a member of a neighborhood group fighting a SMOC project, told the committee to remember that the agency is a "$50 million corporation."

"Could they give back a little to the town so we can have more police, more fire?" she said.

Send comments to: