Plan holds town hostage Friday, July 7, 2006
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Town officials slammed a proposal yesterday from social service agency SMOC to close the wet shelter, a plan that selectmen Chairman Dennis Giombetti said was an attempt to hold the town "hostage."

In an editorial board meeting with the Daily News, Town Manager Julian Suso and Giombetti said SMOC is wrong to make the closing of the shelter contingent on opening another program on Winter Street.

"They're both independent entities," Giombetti said.  "And I thought it was a mistake trying to tie them together, trying to hold the town hostage, basically saying, ’Well, you give me that, and I'll give you that.’"

SMOC unveiled a plan last month to close its emergency shelters over two years by replacing them with new housing units.  The agency wants to start by moving a residential program to Winter Street, freeing up space at the existing Clinton Street location.

Neighbors living around the proposed Winter Street site oppose SMOC's Sage House, a family program for parents recovering from substance abuse.  The project is before the Planning Board for approval.

"Any attempt to connect (closing the wet shelter) with a social service function occurring elsewhere in another neighborhood would not make any sense at all," Suso said.

When asked if he would negotiate with SMOC over the matter, Suso said: "I don't think they're related enough that they should be negotiable."

SMOC executive director Jim Cuddy fired back at those comments yesterday, saying Suso and Giombetti had "a fundamental misunderstanding" of the agency's proposal to end homelessness.

"It's just really unfortunate," he said.  "It serves absolutely no purpose to kind of rattle sabres. It's just not helpful."

SMOC cannot close the Irving Street shelter without creating new housing for people, he said, and moving Sage House and opening a Lincoln Street program called Larry's Place will achieve that goal.  But other housing units in their place, he said, would also work.

Cuddy acknowledged Sage House and Larry's Place would likely not be ready by September, which is the agency’s goal.  He said SMOC is "actively looking for additional housing in the community."

"We’re also looking to create more housing apart from (Sage House and Larry's Place), and if we accomplish that, we'll be able to to accomplish our goals regardless of what happens with Winter Street," he said.

Suso this week marked the start of his second month as Framingham's town manager and said he is still working with selectmen to develop goals and priorities for the coming year.

He will present a plan to the board next week, however, for hiring a social services coordinator and an assistant town manager, a job that has been empty since former town manager George King left in December.

A study committee earlier this year recommended creating the position of social services coordinator. The person would act as a liaison between the town and the nonprofits and advocate for Framingham.

"I think the social services individual is going to have a role," Suso said.  "But it’s not going to be the complete solution or the complete salvation, but I think it’s an important role.  Selectmen have identified that, and I couldn't agree more."

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