Residents decry disruption of their Norwich neighborhood by presence of soup kitchen

Norwich - City police heard stories of daily disruptions to the Cliff Street neighborhood that residents say can be directly attributed to the presence of the St. Vincent de Paul Place soup kitchen over the past 20 months.

A resident found human feces in her front lawn - "with a sock," Cliff Street resident Sarah Scepanski said. "There's no toilet paper, so he used a sock."

One man walking up the street with a shopping cart to collect discarded items carried a computer monitor to the center of the street and smashed it with a claw hammer to get the valued copper inside. Resident Brian Kobylarz submitted photos to the City Council Public Safety Committee.

Another "inebriated" man took his clothes off in the street and was dancing.

These residents and others told of daily trespassing, vandalism to fences, theft and vandalism to holiday decorations - to the point where the neighborhood stopped decorating its Christmas tree - and loud, abusive conversations by people walking down the middle of the street. They'd find bottles, drug-related debris and paper in their yards.

Kobylarz said one day, several soup kitchen patrons were eating their meals sitting around his outdoor fire pit.

About 15 residents and business owners told police during a community forum Wednesday how the soup kitchen has disrupted their daily lives, quality of life and their ability to use and enjoy their own properties.

"It never was like that prior to a certain date," said resident Mark Gagne, owner of the Cummings-Gagne Funeral Home at 82 Cliff St.

Hobart Avenue resident Dave Mitchell installed two home security cameras at a cost of $200 each and invited police to view the recordings at any time.

Police Sgt. Peter Camp, supervisor of the department's growing community policing unit, and three beat patrol officers listened to residents' comments during an hour-long forum Wednesday at Otis Library. St. Vincent Executive Director Jillian Corbin attended and took notes, but did not address the residents and declined to comment after the meeting.

Camp urged residents to keep calling or emailing him and the beat officers when they witness problems, experience damage to their properties or find themselves in uncomfortable potential confrontations. While many incidents would not warrant 911 calls, all information is welcomed to build cases against individuals or to solve other crimes.

Scepanski said she and other residents sometimes are hesitant to call, because "I could call you every day."

Camp said he could not address the political and legal battles surrounding the move of the soup kitchen from the former train station behind Main Street to the former St. Joseph School in July 2012. But he pledged that officers in the community policing patrols would respond to calls and would work to prevent incidents and to protect both residents and soup kitchen patrons.

The Diocese of Norwich at first received a temporary permit to move to the former school, but in November that year applied for permanent permits.

The Commission on the City Plan and Zoning Board of Appeals denied permits, and the diocese has sued in federal court. The parties now are engaged in potential settlement talks with Judge Joan G. Margolis in U.S. District Court in New Haven.


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