SMOC agrees to revamp screening at Framingham shelter Friday, September 23, 2005
Peter Reuell 508-626-4428 Metrowest Daily News
As many as 10 of the state's most dangerous sex offenders who claimed they were living at a downtown Framingham homeless shelter never spent a night at the facility, local officials learned in recent weeks.

To head off such a situation in the future, local officials and executives from South Middlesex Opportunity Council, the agency that operates the shelter, in recent weeks hammered out a series of changes in how the shelter operates.

In addition to closer communication with police about sex offenders living at the shelter, the agency hopes to work with police to identify shelter guests who may have outstanding warrants.

Other changes will include a requirement that shelter guests produce identification when arriving at the shelter.  Those who do not have identification will have seven days to get it.

The agency also agreed to better screen people who are referred to the shelter by outside agencies.

Besides closer communication with police about sex offenders who stay at the shelter, the agency also developed a handful of reforms aimed at addressing persistent community complaints related to the shelter.

In contrast to the image of some community residents, the shelter says it is not simply an anonymous flophouse for those who may be drunk or on drugs.

A "wet" shelter, the downtown shelter accepts those who are obviously drunk or high, who normally would be turned away from other shelters.

For starters, explained Rohey Wadda, MetroWest shelter team manager, the shelter maintains a "banned" list of at least 30 people who are prohibited from staying at the shelter because they are disruptive.

"When they first come into the shelter, we do an intake interview," she said.  "After that, within 72 hours, they're supposed to meet with either the director of the shelter or a caseworker, and we hook them up with different services."

Shelter stays are not indefinite either, she said.

Although officials enforce a strict 60-day limit, extensions are occasionally given if someone is waiting for a spot in another program, like sober housing.

"A lot of the (complaints) come from misconceptions," Wadda said.  "We're out to help people, but we're also out to be good neighbors.  We're not out to harbor criminals or troublemakers."

To halt the practice of using the shelter as a shield, SMOC Planning Director Gerard Desilets said, the agency plans to communicate with police on a regular basis and make sure sex offenders who claim they live at the shelter actually do.

"We have been having conversations for several months on the question of sex offenders," said Desilets.  "It became quite obvious to us that many of the folks who are residing at the overflow shelter as sex offenders have never been there.

"When we come across a name who the police say resides at the overflow shelter, we (can) check it and let them know if they're there or not," he said.

The exact process of how the checks would work has not been determined, but Desilets called it common sense for the agency to do what it can to help police.

"It actually is a violation of law, and we want to make sure the Police Department is aware of those folks who are not living here," he said.  "It's definitely a public safety concern for the community at large."

The agency will meet with police and local officials over the next several weeks, he said, to work out exactly how the communication process will work.  They hope to have a system in place by mid-October.

"We're going to continue to operate as we have," Desilets said.  "These things have been under way already, we are now going to formalize them.  I'm hoping we're going to have daily communication with whoever Chief (Steven Carl) determines is the right person."

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