Norwich — Neighbors of the new temporary home for the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen at the former St. Joseph School voiced their concerns about safety and detrimental effects on the neighborhood Wednesday to the City Council Public Safety Committee.
The soup kitchen was forced to move because of extensive structural repairs to the former train station, where the facility has been located for years. St. Vincent will open today in the former school cafeteria after securing a temporary permit from city and state building officials last week. The facility expects to remain at the school for six months.
Hobart Avenue resident David Mitchell said he was upset at the complacency by city leaders to allow the soup kitchen to move to the cafeteria in the former school. Mitchell said city officials should have sought an injunction to try to stop the move.
Another Hobart Avenue resident, Brian Kobylarz, said the city could have stopped the move through zoning regulations, but officials instead ruled that the cafeteria use was allowed. He complained that city agencies knew about the move, but no one contacted the neighbors.
"It was all done behind our backs," Kobylarz said.
Police Capt. Patrick Daley visited with St. Vincent Executive Director Jillian Corbin Wednesday afternoon before knocking on doors in the neighborhood to hear residents' concerns.
Daley told residents Wednesday night that downtown police patrols will be redeployed to the Cliff Street area immediately. Officers also will be sent out along nearby streets. Daley urged residents to call police with any issues or problems.
Mitchell said he believes the move will become permanent.
Mitchell and Kobylarz told Public Safety Committee members Aldermen Mark Bettencourt and Sofee Noblick that the neighborhood already has had problems, and this could make it worse.
"The schedule for their meals comes very, very close to the schedule of the school buses dropping off kids," Kobylarz said.
Bettencourt said other than increased police presence, there isn't much the city can do. The Diocese of Norwich owns the school and runs the soup kitchen.
Cliff Street resident Jim Small suggested parking a police cruiser at the St. Joseph parking lot.
Small complained that city taxes just went up when his own real estate value has gone down. He said homes should be revaluated "just because of this."
Mitchell obtained statistics from the police department showing that from Jan. 2 through June 25, police responded to 158 calls to St. Vincent de Paul Place, including 89 for assault, fighting, breach of peace, alcohol or drug incidents and medical emergencies.
Mitchell expects the same at the new location.
Daley said the calls are not all in response to incidents but rather serve as preventive measures when staff or clientele feel they need assistance. Sometimes, Daley said, a soup kitchen patron will want to talk to an officer and uses the facility as a convenient, private place for a meeting.
"I feel confident we're going to continue working together," Corbin said of the facility's relationship with Norwich police. "This isn't a new relationship."
Corbin, who did not attend the evening meeting, said the soup kitchen move is temporary during the repairs of the train station. Last week, the state building official approved a six-month waiver of the requirement that the facility have handicapped access.
City Manager Alan Bergren told residents Wednesday night that St. Vincent would need full planning and zoning approval as well as compliance with state and federal handicapped-access laws if the soup kitchen wanted to move to the school permanently.