Not Safe - Not Secure - Is This Public Housing in Needham?

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  - NEEDHAM, MA   Susan is a new tenant at Needham's public housing on Chambers Street.  After about a Month, or so, of listening to other residents tell their stories, and witnessing, first hand, the erratic behavior of several fellow tenants, she started carrying MACE.

On the morning of Tuesday July  12, 2022, the residents of the Linden/Chambers shared a bit of social time together in the Community Room at 5 Chambers Street.  Several staffers from the Center At the Heights (CATH) joined tenants in a public meeting, where Susan, and others, were able to share their concerns.  This meeting, more generally, was held because residents requested help in getting better communication and coordination regarding their needs and interests.  This is necessary, in part, due to housing and health care positions remaining unfilled, and so, the work remains undone.  

The Housing Authority position of Resident Services Coordinator remains empty, and so, residents have no newsletter, no activities, and no tenant meetings.  Organizing a tenant group at Linden/Chambers has been a nominal NHA goal for the past three years, but remains, as yet, another unmet aspiration.  The Mass Public Housing Tenants Union has been called to help rectify the situation.

Another unfilled position is that of Care Coordinator, which is an onsite service person provided by Springwell, a health care corporation.  Without adequate attention and responsiveness to the needs of the elderly and those in special situations, things will happen.

Sure enough, on that same Tuesday afternoon, after the residents meeting, something happened.  There was an incident in the parking lot of Chambers Street between two residents.  Michael Cataldo, a 30 year resident of public housing in Needham, called Police.  Neighbors on their porches, witnessed a squabble, but mostly recalled the loud yelling and vivid swearing by Mr. Cataldo, and  the two or three patrol cars, a police utility pickup that responded.

Nothing was resolved and no attribution was assigned for all the excitement.  Coincidentally, on the next morning of Wednesday July 13, 2021, Mr. Cataldo was scheduled to appear in Dedham District Court to answer charges filed by the Needham Police Department on behalf of, at least, two residents of Chambers Street.

The first civil charge was for "threatening a crime," and was continued from 2021.  After the most recent incident from the day before, the Court served up a restraining order against Mr. Cataldo, and for the protection of a neighbor, Will McDonough, living at the other end of the same building.

A second new charge, heard in Court against Mr. Cataldo, was for "criminal harassment" and was brought, again, by the Needham Police Department on behalf of another neighbor, Connie Cleary,  a former next door neighbor, who moved out of public housing during the latter part of 2021, on the advice of her doctor.  Ms. Cleary felt wronged, was defiant and refused to be driven out of her home by one disagreeable renter.  She registered her complaints over smoking and noise with Housing, but needs were not met.  Her doctor was furious.  Her health required, as a cancer patient, she move out immediately.

Some neighbors, who know the parties involved, are saying that Mr. Cataldo is getting a raw deal, and that her neighbors (at least five in the same building) are chronic complainers.  Something like that is now said about Susan.  Remember Susan, with the MACE?  Some are saying that feeling threatened in public housing is a paranoid overreaction.  People seem to want to say that even though a person stands in the middle of a parking lot and yells aggressively at people, who may or may not be there, that they are not dangerous and not a little threatening. 

What has happened, however, is that, instead of acknowledging that one tenant is acting out inappropriately and dealing with him, we take his bad behavior as the new normal.  Are residents supposed to duck and cover?  Cower in fear?  Is this now acceptable in public housing?   What standards do we have?  On top of it all, the tenants subjugated to the crazy, get called crazy, themselves.  The complainer becomes the trouble maker.  And has to move out.  Talking about a problem makes you the problem. 

One response to aggressive disruptive bullying, according to one of Needham's finest, is to ignore it.  Turn away.  Do not escalate.  This is the safe response in the immediate moment, but after a while, it gets to be too much.

(...to be con't.)

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