The Special Townies organization is in the middle of fighting a potential eviction from their long-time Main Street headquarters this week, and said they have done everything they could over the last several months to try to resolve the matter, but at the same time officials from the Mishawum Park Tenants Association (MPTA) and Peabody Properties say they are trying to reach a resolution with Special Townies and are getting no cooperation from the organization.
The situation has left the matter at an uncomfortable impasse this week, and everyone hoping for a positive resolution to help the kids and the Park.
In a meeting this week, Director Debbie Hughes said they have been going back and forth with the MPTA and Peabody Properties since last September regarding their long-time clubhouse space. The MPTA and Peabody have a need for more administrative space and are looking for Special Townies to locate in another nearby space, or to allow the Park to take over part of the existing space to accommodate the office uses. Up until Christmas Eve, Hughes said she thought she was going to get her lease renewed and that members of the MPTA Board had voted to support her, but only then learned that the program was going to have to vacate the space. Since that time, she said she’s been served with a Notice of Eviction three times, most recently for April, and has been trying to find a good lawyer to help fight for the cause.
“It is Autism Awareness month right now and this is the only program in Charlestown that serves kids and young adults with Autism and other disabilities,” said Hughes, “and they want to throw us out. They want to build more office space here. We’ve been here 13 years with no issue. They always told me I would never have to leave unless I couldn’t afford my rent…I’ve already had the constable at my door three different times (with eviction notices). The politicians and officials wanted us to stay quiet and to work it out, and let it go away. I’m not being quiet now. I’ve had enough and the kids don’t deserve this.”
Long-time supporter John Taglilatella said after all they’ve been through in the last several months, he cannot say that the Board or Peabody Properties are friends of the community any longer.
“Peabody Properties and the Mishawum Park Tenants Association are not friends of the Charlestown Community,” he said. “To disrupt and displace Special Townies is unconscionable. The Main Street center allows the Special Townies to cope with the unpredictability of daily life and is their safe haven. We all know that change and upheaval can cause a great deal of anxiety with our Special Townie friends and this is just unfair.”
Attorney Jeff Turk represents the MPTA, and said the Park is in a unique situation due to it being operated by Peabody Properties, but governed by a Board of eight elected residents. That Board, he said, and Peabody have been trying to resolve the issue with Special Townies for months, with no cooperation from the group. He said the Board and Peabody have been trying to resolve “a real world problem” for office space for a long time, even before COVID. To meet with tenants and re-certify them, they need more space, he said. With the office next to Special Townies, the plan was to relocate Special Townies to the old Baby Cakes location down the street, and build out more office space in the Special Townies location. Another option was for Special Townies to cede about two-thirds of their space to the office use, and then locate their program in a smaller space, though in the same location.
“The Board has been trying to resolve this situation with them,” he said. “We’ve offered a new office for some of her office space or to keep her in her existing space in a smaller office and she’s refused to engage with us. We’re happy to do mediation. It’s a real world issue we need to resolve because we need part of her space back. There’s no good guy and no bad guy here. We’re trying to resolve a real world problem and it takes two people to do that.”
He added they have talked to two different lawyers helping Special Townies to try to get a resolution, but the lawyers have not responded after initial conversations.
Hughes disagrees with the assertion she hasn’t tried to engage with them, but says so much has been done privately and without her full knowledge. It has only been since January that she learned she needed to fight the eviction, and she said she has piles of paperwork and e-mails to back up her fight. She said they have been hampered by not having a lawyer, and were disappointed when one lawyer from Everett seemed to drop the case without telling anyone.
At the moment, she said she wants residents of Mishawum Park to know what is happening with Special Townies, and the overall community to know so they can support them. Also, she said they are putting out a call to get a lawyer with some specialty in this area to defend these special needs kids pro bono. She stressed the situation is not financial in terms of affording the rent, and certified that she has paid the rent every month of the fight and her checks have been cashed.
“I have done everything in a timeframe and timeline that I was asked to do and I have e-mails to back it up,” she said. “I have never been late on my rent and they still cash the checks. We open this place to whomever is in need. This place is used a lot. Much of what we do we don’t trumpet, and people have always told me I should, but that’s not how we’ve done things. When parents don’t know where to turn, we’re here with the experience and help they need – and we’ve done that quietly for years…Now, we need an attorney to help us through this.”
She said a move down the street is out of the question, and that’s not out of stubbornness, but rather due to the fact that special needs children and youth would not be able to adjust to the change – and the fact that there is a dog day care/grooming business next door that possibly would not mix with Special Townies. That space was also not handicap accessible.
“It’s 100 percent routine for these kids,” said long-time supporter Beth Burton-Taglilatela. “Without a routine, they can end up with behavioral issues that are unnecessary. If you move the door, it’s a problem. There are kids that count how many steps it is up the ramp and to the door. Now you move the door and this kid takes his 45 steps and it’s not at the door, but at a wall. How will he react to that? He will act out. He won’t handle it well. It has to be consistent with these kids and that’s what this space has been for so long…These kids have had their world turned upside down with COVID-19, and this is the only thing they’ve had. It’s not just about the MPTA or the need for more office space, it’s about disrupting the lives of these kids and it’s wrong.”
Hughes and Taglilatella said they believe there is a possibility that residents of Mishawum can overturn the action of the Board with a two-thirds vote of all residents, and they hope that something like that could happen.
Turk said he could not discuss the legal case with the newspaper, so he couldn’t say if the eviction Notice to Vacate had been filed in Housing Court this week. An eviction notice sent by Constable to Hughes said the filing would take place April 12 or 19, with a trial date to be determined.
Hughes said she rarely asks for help, but at this time needed to reach out to the community for legal help and community support.
“People have no idea what Special Townies really does, but it’s parents helping parents,” she said. “We are a non-profit and it’s all 100 percent volunteer and we’re all parents of children with disabilities and friends of them. We don’t always tell people everything we do because a lot of things aren’t public and involve IEPs and other private help. This is the only place for people with disabilities in Charlestown.”