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The Boston Globe

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Framingham

Picnic table is set up for homeless

Volunteers have built a picnic table in a narrow park across from an antipoverty organization’s offices on Howard Street in Framingham, in hope of attracting the homeless to the grassy space as an alternative to the nearby Downtown Common , where a farmers market is held on Tuesdays.

Since July, town officials have been grappling with how to make the common and the farmers market held there more welcoming for visitors. The common, near a Salvation Army branch and a methadone clinic, is also a place where homeless people congregate because there has been no other place for them to go, advocates say.

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At a July 9 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Robert Halpin said “interaction” with those waiting for a meal at the Salvation Army has been making those at the market “feel uncomfortable.”

Since then, the town, police, and local social service agencies have been meeting to figure out a solution.

Measures so far include maintaining a police presence at the market, as well as having a representative from the South Middlesex Opportunity Council, or SMOC, engage the homeless individuals there in a less controversial way.

The problem goes back decades, said Herb Chasan, chairman of the town’s Community Services Standing Committee, who last week led a small group of volunteers in the construction of the picnic table across from the SMOC offices at 300 Howard St. Materials were donated by Carby’s Lumber.

Chasan said he already has seen the table being used by the homeless, and there are plans to build at least two more tables with donated material, in addition to a small garden.

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“It just seemed like a beautiful place,” Chasan said.

The park is on private land, Chasan said, and the landlord has given permission for the picnic tables and a garden to be set up there.

“It’s going to be a quiet place for them to come, without as much hassle as they get down there,” Chasan said, referring to the Downtown Common. “It’s not that we want to move them here, but we want to give them another option to sit where it’s quiet. That’s all. Another option. . .  It’s moving a problem, but to a little nicer area.”

David Depietri, whose Rosewood Development Corp. of Marlborough owns the green space where the picnic table was set up, could not be reached for comment.

SMOC is not involved with the park project, according to agency representative Jerry Desilets.

There are limited programs for the homeless to participate in during the day that would get them off the streets, said Selectman Charles Sisitsky, and some don’t want to participate and would rather be left alone.

One of the volunteer builders was Bobby Laing, who lives in SMOC housing.

“I got some carpentry experience, and I’m from the area, anyway,” Laing said. “I had nothing else to do today so I figured I’d help out the community.”

Laing said the small park is a better alternative than the Downtown Common “because a lot of people do hang out at the park downtown, and Framingham police are getting tough on those people downtown.”

“I hate to say it,” Laing continued, “but there are a few people — three or four people — that do stir up trouble once in awhile. I think this is one of the better ideas that has arisen.”

Like Chasan, Laing acknowledges that Framingham’s homeless population needs more than just another outdoor park.

“There should be a community center people can go to during the day, just stop in and out,” he said.

Both Sisitsky and Chasan said simple amenities, such as showers, are not available to many homeless while shelters are closed during daytime hours, and Sisitsky called for more programs and drop-in centers to help alleviate the problem.

“This is a problem of society, and not unique to Framingham,” Sisitsky said. Chasan “is not going to solve the problem with one picnic table, but it’s a start, and it offers an option.”

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com.

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