The South Middlesex Opportunity Council, a regional social service agency headquartered in Framingham, has decided to close a day center that has provided services for the homeless downtown since the fall of 2013.
The center was launched as a pilot program conceived by the nonprofit organization, town officials, the local Police Department, and the Salvation Army to give homeless adults a place to congregate indoors during daytime hours, when many overnight shelters are not open.
The center, housed in the Salvation Army’s former thrift store building, was created in response to complaints from downtown business owners and visitors about uncomfortable encounters with homeless adults loitering and milling about the sidewalks and parks during the day, according to Jerry Desilets, the director of planning for the regional agency known by its initials, SMOC.
Twenty to 30 homeless people visited the center each day, Desilets said. However, its use waned during warmer weather, when they continued to frequent public areas.
“Just as beginning the center was a collaborative effort, the decision to end it was collaborative as well,” Desilets said. “And we’ve all agreed that with spring approaching — though lately it doesn’t feel like it’s coming anytime soon — now is a good time to study long-term more permanent solutions and places to operate this sort of facility and aid the homeless.”
Framingham Town Manager Robert Halpin said no firm date has been set for closing the center, but he expects it to be “a couple months away.”
The center did have a few success stories, including one elderly man who had been homeless on and off for 25 years. After coming to the center, he was ushered into successful substance abuse treatment and found placement in a home for seniors.
But for the most part, “when it was really, really cold, they made use of the center,” Desilets said of the homeless. “And when it wasn’t very cold they continued to spend their time outside in the downtown area.”
Halpin agreed with Desilets that the decisions to launch and to shutter the day center program were collaborative.
“We all simply came to the agreement that it wasn’t working out,” Halpin said. “That’s all. The conflicts that we had hoped would end with the opening of the center simply did not go away. And so rather than continue a program that isn’t working, we decided now was a good time to end it and begin working on a longer- term solution for a way to help these people and find them a place that works for all parties.”
As for SMOC’s other work, “nothing else changes,” Desilets said. “We’ve been in Framingham since 1965 and across the region we operate more than 60 other social service programs, from housing to heating assistance, adult learning, and more. Everything continues.”