Organizers of the fledgling weekly farmers market in downtown Framingham are performing a balancing act.
They want to make the market, which has been open every Tuesday since its launch June 4 in the Downtown Common off Concord Street, as welcoming as possible. But the organizers are worried about the effect of homeless people with no other place to go who congregate at the park.
At a recent Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Robert Halpin said “interaction” with those waiting for a free meal at a nearby Salvation Army is making some customers and vendor at the market “feel uncomfortable.”
Halpin said the town has had discussions with the Framingham Downtown Renaissance group and local social service agencies to figure out a solution to the issue, including finding a better location for people waiting for services from the Salvation Army.
“We don’t want to paint a picture of conflict,” Halpin said. “We appreciate that social service agencies are trying to help people. We need a strategy where they’re not just hanging around downtown in between areas where people are trying to help them. Ignoring them during the day isn’t the answer.” The new downtown market is in addition to one that is held every Thursday at the Framingham Centre Common on Edgell Road, near Route 9.
Last week, Framingham Downtown Renaissance executive director Holli Andrews acknowledged the problem is one common to urban areas.
The downtown park is across the street from the Salvation Army facility. And within easy walking distance is a methadone clinic operated by Spectrum Health Systems on Franklin Street.
“When the farmers market is going, it’s a wonderful, lively, beautiful little park. Then other times, it’s not so neutral,” Andrews said. “But we’ll keep trying to make downtown feel safe and welcoming to everybody.”
The market’s organizers, including Andrews, brought in Moses Mohammed, a program manager at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which provides social services in the region, including homeless and substance abuse services.
“The idea is to engage them,” Mohammed said last week. A foot patrolman also provides a police presence at the market, but Mohammed said that “when you combine both cops and the community, it’s not as intimidating.”
Most of the homeless stay in nearby shelters at night and many get meals from the Salvation Army facility near the park.
Mohammed said part of the problem is that the shelters where many of his clients spend the night are closed during the day. He said he knows most of the individuals who congregate in the park, and said they are dealing with a host of problems, including drug and alcohol abuse and lack of job skills.
“They’re not working, so there’s no money for transportation,” he said. “They come to the park and drink, or wait for the Salvation Army to open. What else can you do? You come to the park.”
What’s needed, he said, is a safe place where the homeless can congregate during the day.
In the meantime, Mohammed is at the park, offering South Middlesex Opportunity Council services, he said.
“The help is there if they need it, but some of them have done this for years,” Mohammed said, adding many do not want to give up their independence. “It’s all they know.”
Halpin said the new farmers market will continue to grow and be successful in the weeks to come.
About a dozen vendors were set up at the park on a recent sweltering Tuesday.
Matt Scranton, from Hanson’s Farm on Nixon Road, said that he had not run into any trouble, and that the market “is run very well.
“It’s very professional,” Scranton said. “It’s great for the community.”
Framingham Farmers Market manager Jackie Meninno, however, said last week it is too soon to tell whether the downtown market will be successful enough to return next year.