Group home a concern for neighbors

This home at 201 Klaus Anderson Road is being leased by Becket Family Services as a group home. Currently, four women ages 19-26 reside there. The home is a concern for neighbors. (Photo by The Westfield News/Chief Photographer Frederick Gore)
This home at 201 Klaus Anderson Road is being leased by Becket Family Services as a group home. Currently, four women ages 19-26 reside there. The home is a concern for neighbors. (Photo by The Westfield News/Chief Photographer Frederick Gore)

SOUTHWICK, Mass. (The Westfield News) – A new women’s group home on Klaus Anderson Road is a cause of concern for neighbors and the board of selectmen.

Residents living near the home at 201 Klaus Anderson Road said several incidents there have caused them to feel unsafe.

“We don’t feel safe at night,” said neighbor Victoria Hickey. “And with the warm weather coming, I don’t know if we will want to sit out in our own yards.

Hickey said she knows of at least two incidents where windows in the home were broken and at least one resident has tried to run away more than once.

Southwick Police Safety Officer Sgt. Kirk Sanders said he visited the home this week and the women living there have “serious behavioral issues, not criminal issues” and are constantly with a staff member or specialist, even overnight. The goal of the program is to have the residents eventually live on their own. Sanders said he found the director there to be a nice man who is more than willing to do what he needs to do to make the neighbors feel comfortable.

Sanders also said it was his impression that they were there to stay.

“It seems that the issues are mainly with one girl,” said Sanders. “I have a feeling if they get more complaints about it she will be moved out.”

The home is leased to Becket Family of Services, which offers programs for children and adults in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. According to becket.org, “the Becket Family of Services provides an array of youth and family driven solutions, including home-based treatment, family support, mentoring, residential respite, targeted case management, academic support, family therapy, and other therapeutic interventions.”

Job openings for residential counselors for Becket Family of Services were recently posted online for Agawam, Southwick, Winchendon, Lakeville, and Westminster.

Senders said Mr. Whitman who runs the program also has similar residences in other communities. Currently there are four women ages 19 to 26 living at 201 Klaus Anderson Road and there’s a possibility of a fifth person.

Senders said that there seems to be no problem with having the group home there as far as permits and licenses, etc.

Selectmen Chairman Russell Fox said he had concerns that the septic system could not support that many people.

“I have some serious questions about health laws – I don’t know how many people are there and if that septic system can handle all those people,” he said.

Fox said he was also concerned about trash on site after neighbors complained about an unsightly dumpster.

Sanders said the dumpster has been removed and replaced with large rectangular trash containers which will be kept out of sight once the weather improves. He also said a fence is planned for the property this spring.

Selectwoman Tracy Cesan said she had sympathy for the neighbors and was not sure this type of home was appropriate in that neighborhood. Cesan also said if it is a legal use of the home she wants to work in cooperation with Becket Family of Services.

“I agree (with Fox) but I don’t want to muscle him out – I want to work with him,” she said.

Another neighbor, Cemil Erdem, said he is an emergency room physician who is used to dealing with people with psychiatric issues.

“These seem to be people with severe psychiatric issues”, he said. “Up until now it has been an unsafe situation.”

Erdem told the board that his children have been taunted by at least one of the residents while waiting for the bus at the end of his driveway. He said he hopes now that the police and the selectmen have stepped in the situation will improve.

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Media Credit: The Westfield News

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