A few members of Framingham's homeless community have constructed park benches this week at a narrow park across from the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) on Howard Street.
It is hoped that the benches will make the park an appealing alternative to gathering at the Downtown Common on the other end of Howard Street, site of Tuesday's downtown farmer's market.
Since July, organizers have been grappling with how to make the common and the farmers market held there welcoming. The common, located near a Salvation Army branch and a methadone clinic, is also a place where homeless people with no other place to go congregate.
The problem goes back decades, said Herb Chasan, who chairs the town’s Community Services Standing Committee, who this week led the construction of the picnic tables at the park across from SMOC with a small group of homeless volunteers. Materials were donated by Carby’s Lumber and Ashland Lumber. Chasan said there are plans to build a small flower garden by the tables.
“It just seemed like a beautiful place,” Chasan said.
The park is on private land, Chasan said, and the landlord has given permission to build the picnic tables and garden.
SMOC is not involved with the park project, according to SMOC representative Jerry Desilets.
“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.”
One of the volunteer builders on Tuesday was Bobby Laing, who lives at 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 that park near SMOC 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, because it is a public area, and there just a lot of people who hang out there all day until it gets dark."
"I hate to say it," Laing continued, "but there are a few people – three or four people – that do stir up trouble once in a while. 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. “In the long run, there should be more community places ... there should be a community center people can go to during the day, just stop in and out."
However, Laing said that "this is definitely a start."