SNN: Neighbors Blast Authorities at Winter Hill Meeting
Somerville, Mass. – Winter Hill residents railed at state officials and authorities from the Vinfen healthcare company on Oct. 29, demanding more oversight for the corporation’s group home at 155 Central Street.
Earlier this fall, a resident of the home allegedly assaulted a woman in a nearby parking lot. Allen Harmon, 35, was charged with assault to rape and murder among other charges after he reportedly attacked a woman on Oct. 8. The group home has been the target of complaints for years.
“I do not feel safe walking from my car to my house because I live two doors down from that house,” Central Street resident Cindy Meyers yelled across the crowded Winter Hill Community School lunchroom. “That is a problem!”
At the meeting – attended by state and city representatives – Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Area Director Patricia Kenny apologized for the lack of oversight.
“We haven’t been as responsive as we need to be,” Kenny admitted. “And I apologize for that.”
“Why?” a women from the audience asked.
“There’s probably a lot of reasons and I don’t know all the answers. I think we need to acknowledge that we haven’t done it and we need to do it better,” she replied.
“When you guys came to the neighborhood the idea was – this was a home for people to be in the neighborhood and they were to become part of the neighborhood and respect the neighborhood, and they don’t respect the neighborhood,” one woman said.
The October 29 meeting gathered over 100 neighbors and city and state officials. Vinfen President and CEO Bruce Bird promised that his nonprofit corporation would do a better job. Vinfen oversees over 200 mental health-related facilities in the state, and made over $109 million in revenues in 2012, according to the Somerville Journal.
Elected officials also weighed in.
“I think we need to have penalties if you don’t live up to your obligations and rewards if you do,” Senator Pat Jehlan (D-2nd Middlesex District).
“We are with them,” Alderman at Large Mary Jo Rossetti said angrily, pointing to the room. “So, correct it, yesterday!”
After listening to complaints and comments, city officials promised to convene a follow-up meeting where an advisory committee would announce a set of steps that Vinfen and the Department of Mental Health will follow to address the lack of oversight.
“I know we’re going to be working much more closely with the police, and local officials to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Vinfen’s Bird told SNN.
But many of those present were skeptical.
“I don’t believe that Vinfen can fix themselves,” Winter Hill resident Samuel Acevedo told Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN) after the meeting. “What I believe needs to happen is whoever is holding Vinfen accountable needs to now externally look into them, see what’s gone wrong, and diagnose it themselves. We can not trust Vinfen any more to fix themselves.”
Group home neighbor Deepika Bhargo agreed.
“Vinfen has a lot of thinking to do, and when they get back to us they better have the answers,” she told SNN.
“The neighbors had the opportunity to express what they have been experiencing, and express their frustration,” Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) told SNN. “The lack of supervision coming from the Vinfen house is such that… I think they better [make changes].”
The date of the next meeting has not yet been released.