SMOC's contract handles housing Wednesday, July 5, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Social service agency SMOC secured a $1.3 million contract from the state to find housing for ex-convicts who are at risk for homelessness when they leave prison.

The Department of Correction awarded the contract to the Framingham-based agency last week, said spokesman Paul Henderson.  The decision was expected since the South Middlesex Opportunity Council was the only bidder.

The four-year contract, which went into effect Saturday, calls for finding housing across the state for those leaving prison, a unique service that SMOC can provide, Henderson said.

"For placement assistance and wrap-around services for many people in the state really offer those services?" he said.

SMOC previously had a three-year contract with the Department of Correction to manage the re-entry program.  The program raised eyebrows among some locally, who feared it was funneling ex-prisoners to Framingham.

However, according to state officials, as of the end of March only five people have found housing here.  Under the new contract, SMOC is required to work with clients for one year, up from six months under the old agreement.

State Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, said yesterday that she, state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and Selectmen Dennis Giombetti and Ginger Esty met with officials from the Department of Correction several weeks ago to learn more about the program.

"I know it's serving a small number of people, and to the extent that they're successful, then people don't re-offend and can stay in the community," she said.

Blumer said she was not surprised SMOC was the only bidder. "A lot of organizations out there don't have statewide connections," she said.

Peter Adams, of the group Stop Tax Exempt Private Property Sprawl, said the contract provides "no real oversight" by the state.  The Department of Correction, he said, does not verify where people are being placed or whether they have found housing.  Instead, according to Adams, the Department of Correction is just taking SMOC on its word.

Adams also said there is no long-term tracking of where those in the program are living.  He raised the possibility they could move to Framingham after the first year to take advantage of SMOC services.

"It doesn't tell us that the year after they've placed them in Upton or wherever they're not moving them right back into Framingham into the continuum of care they've set up here," he said.

SMOC officials could not be reached for comment, and Henderson, the state spokesman, did not return a call seeking a response to Adams' comments.

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