SMOC to close its wet shelter Thursday, June 15, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Social service agency SMOC plans to close the homeless shelter on Irving Street by September and ultimately shut the doors at other shelters across MetroWest within two years.

The announcement came yesterday as the Framingham agency unveiled its plan to wipe out homelessness among single adults in MetroWest.  Doing so, it says, will require building new affordable housing in the region to replace its shelter beds.

During a presentation at the United Church of Christ's Badger Road campus, agency officials outlined a three-stage plan to close and revamp five shelters in Framingham, Ashland and Marlborough during a two-year period.

They would be replaced with what SMOC Executive Director Jim Cuddy called "service-enriched housing" like Scudder House, which just opened on the church property.  That program serves formerly homeless women recovering from substance abuse.

"It's something we're all excited about," Cuddy told a group of about 80 people.  "It's something we believe is doable, and it's something that we need assistance and support and coalition-building around to accomplish."

The 40-bed Irving Street shelter -- known as Common Ground -- often draws sharp criticism for fueling crime in town and housing people with no connection to the Framingham area.  Men and women who are drunk or high on drugs are allowed to sleep there.

Cuddy said SMOC plans to close the shelter and replace it with a housing resource center and a day-laborer business at the site.  But first the agency needs to open 15 to 20 units of sober and affordable housing and five to 10 units of housing aimed at chronically homeless people.

"As soon as these units come online, the Common Ground shelter will be closed," he said.

Closing the shelter, however, hinges on moving the Sage House program from Clinton Street downtown to a former nursing home on Winter Street, a project neighbors oppose.  Cuddy expects Sage House will open by Sept. 1.  The agency is also preparing to open 19 new units of affordable housing on Lincoln Street for low-income and formerly homeless veterans.

Selectmen Chairman Dennis Giombetti called for SMOC to close the shelter immediately without waiting for the additional housing, saying it has caused the agency and the town "an innumerable amount of problems."

He also hopes the additional housing units SMOC plans to open are spread around MetroWest, not just Framingham.

"Conceptually, I would support any initiative that closed shelters in Framingham, number one, and two, provided...a better balance of programs and sites across the region," he said.

During yesterday's presentation, Cuddy said the development of the shelter system in the 1980s was "a fundamentally flawed decision," though well intentioned.  Shelters, he said, have not solved homelessness, but instead have led to "the management of the problem."

"Every one of you in the room knows that when you manage a problem it doesn't go away," he said.  "It continues to fester, and it continues to produce an effect where lives go unfulfilled, communities are undernourished and understrengthened, and everyone loses."

Following the closing of the Irving Street shelter, SMOC said it will move to convert the Marlborough shelter into sober housing as well as the Shadows and Meadows shelters in Ashland into housing programs for women.

During the two-year plan, SMOC intends to open additional affordable housing in MetroWest and downsize the Turning Point shelter on Merchant Road in Framingham into an emergency 10-day program with 10 to 15 beds.

SMOC's plan to end homelessness follows the release of a study committee's report that tracked significant growth of social service sites in Framingham since 1990.

Laurie Lee, a member of the committee that compiled the report, said SMOC should be working with the town as it develops its proposal, not making decisions independently.

With the Planning Board working on a new master plan, she said, it should know about SMOC's plans for creating new housing units.

"Don't make decisions for the town," she said.  "Work with the town.  Let the town have some say in what we're going to be."

Send comments to: