A tent in the woods next to trees.

Homeless in RI: Dignity Bus, start your engines… DaVinci Center encampment danger to seniors

We start off with the Good News in our continuing series, “Homeless in RI”.

The Dignity Bus

It’s said that there are no coincidences in life. Or few of them. How coincidental was it that Woonsocket City Councilor Valerie Gonzalez, would happen to be in Florida, nearby to The Source (bus owners), when the Dignity Bus deal was going to “h— in a handbasket” (to use one advocates phrase)?

Following up on our story of the state’s efforts to purchase a large retrofitted bus for emergency shelter to Rhode Island from the Florida non-profit, we found that the deal is not dead. Mainly because one motivated person, Councilor Gonzalez, and the Community Partnership Task Force, which brings together local nonprofit leaders twice per month, moved a city to put its resources together to make it happen, the bus may be coming by late summer, to serve the people of Woonsocket. It’s our good news story.

Details of how the Dignity Bus came to be known to Rhode Island in our story, here:

From Councilor Gonzalez: “On our next council meeting June 5th 7pm, we will be voting on the appropriation ordinance for the funding. It is expected to pass unanimously. Half the funds will be paid before the 19th and the remainder will be paid upon delivery. We are currently narrowing down the delivery date. Working on coordinating training and inspections. It will most likely be delivered the 2nd week of July. and in operations by the end of the month / early Aug.

With Councilor Gonzalez’ intervention, enthusiasm and vision, the Woonsocket City Council is expected to execute a unanimous vote to bring “Dignity” to the city. The plan has the support of Woonsocket Mayor Baldelli and “an endorsement of sorts from Peter Conway of Conway Bus, as to the efficacy of the bus in terms of its age and miles”, as reported in the Woonsocket Call, financing will be put together to have the bus come to city soon.

When reached at The Source, Tony Zorbaugh, CEO, confirmed the Councilor’s details, with a hearty, “She’s right!” – and then added, “The city council of Woonsocket has been amazing to work with.” 

The city is planning to contract with The Source to purchase the bus for $150,000, possibly using some “settlement money” and ARPA funds. It will be a better deal than the city’s contract to house 15 people at the Motor Inn nearby, says Gonzalez. While it will temporarily house 20 homeless individuals, it will also relieve the stress on the use of the local hotels and motels.

Rev. Dan Sweet of Holy Trinity has already agreed to host the bus at the site of the parish and connect it to water and electricity. The Community Care Alliance will run the program, and The Source will provide training on the use of the bus, with a representative to be in Woonsocket for a week or so.

A key part of this hyper-local arrangement and funding is that the bus will be used for “residents” of Woonsocket as a priority and the city will not use the CES waiting list that most people in the state have to be put on prior to emergency housing placement.


Next, the Bad News that’s only getting worse:

Vin Marzullo took the reins of the DaVinci Center, after the death of its CEO, on an interim basis to lead it through its search for permanent leadership. In addition to the challenges facing a senior center with an extensive growing census, and programs, and tighter budgets, Marzullo his center – and Charles Place, the senior high rise next to the Center – embroiled in the issues that come with homelessness. First there was the encampment that has only grown over time. It is on state property, nestled between the West River and the highway, at the back of the Center and Charles Place, buildings side by side, and as such no one is putting their hands on the problem to solve it. There is drug dealing. There have been fires. There has been a break-in to the Center.

The group that gathers in the backyard of the high rise are visibly doing drugs and gathering in the gazebo. The gazebo was bought and donated by Rep. Mary Ellen Goodwin, who died several weeks ago.

Large building is Charles Place, smaller building lower left is DaVinci Center. Note the round Mary Ellen Goodwin Gazebo on the top right corner of the wooded area of Charles Place. Encampments are across the West River (accessible by a plank) and into the woods, running along Route 146.

There are reports of people who don’t belong inside the Charles Place building freely roaming – and perhaps living – in the center. There is one woman who used to live inside the building, who now resides in the homeless encampment. It’s unclear what’s happened with her apartment. She has been seen participating in drug activity.

Marzullo has tried everything he can think of. He has a meeting coming up with Providence Mayor Smiley. He’s written to the police – and to HUD, the federal group that manages the high rise. He’s at wits ends. And maybe a little frightened, too, as drug dealers seem to be more and more visible in the area.

Our story from April 29th: .

The letter shared from the CEO that was sent to the Providence Police Department:

After this letter to the police, Marzullo contacted HUD, who manages the high-rise and here is their latest response:

Stay tuned for more information on the DaVinci Center’s struggle with the homeless encampment and efforts to have it addressed.


All Women’s Shelter

Plans are underway, according to sources, for an all-women’s shelter to open within a month or two. In would be in the Providence area, most likely. Stay tuned for more information.


Pawtucket shelter is only allowed to have 50 people sleep overnight – while they can expand to 100 during the day, only 50 at night under present guidelines. In an article in Valley Breeze: “People are coming from everywhere, from encampments around the state, from being evicted from their apartments, from the Armory.

Coventry Home Depot

For the last few years, RVs, vans, and cars have parked overnight at the Home Depot parking lot in Coventry. This week they were moved out by local authorities. A few have been there for over a year.

Armory exiters

Homeless service agencies are giving out tents to those who say they have nowhere to go

Latino Pastors outreach

Pastors are reaching out to take 300 migrants into Providence – unconfirmed, but more conversation is happening about this.


Says they will create over 35 housing units on Pine Street in Providence – the local community opposed this, but this week the project was approved. The building has no parking on site. Crossroads owns a parking lot across the street.

Washington Bridge, Providence

Homeless were removed from towers area of bridge, where they were living. Last week, bronze plaques were removed and stolen from the main bridge area.

Newport and East Bay

Newport Mental Health recently launched Rhode Island Outreach a new “boots on the ground” effort to reach the homeless, among other groups, primarily dealing with addiction. When someone calls “988” a response team consisting of a behavioral specialist and a medical specialist goes to the person to help them problem solve, without ending up being arrested. Other than responding to emergency calls, the members of the team are visible in the community, visiting meal sites, etc., and will have vans soon in the community.


California cities and state will receive federal money for help with the homeless

NYC wanted to use operating schools’ gyms for migrant housing, but parents protested and that plan ended. However, they are looking at 120 other schools – and may be also targeting them for use during the summer break. These schools have no showers or private bathrooms, which would be set up in the parking lot.

NYC has reopened The Roosevelt Hotel, which has been closed for 3 years, to house 850 migrants and to serve as an intake center.

Chicago – some police stations are being used to house the homeless (this was done in Pawtucket in the heart of winter, before the shelter was opened).

Massachusetts – idea being vetted to use at least one city-owned island for housing and rehabilitation. An island has been identified and now a bridge needs to be redone to access it. Over 4,500 people were living in shelters this past week, with another 1,000 living in hotels. Additional people are using hospital emergency areas at night to sleep. Migrants have started to show up in increasing numbers with no plans and no housing. The state has put together an inter-agency emergency response team to address homelessness.

199 days until the first day of Winter – 109 days until the first day of Fall


  1. LM on June 6, 2023 at 4:41 pm

    Somehow, a city group of politicians voted without a moment of hesitation to bring the Dignity Bus to their area, and yet our State leaders put up roadblocks and canceled the original order. It’s time for our leaders to smarten up, get out and see how their citizens live. It’s not just the homeless – it’s homeowners, renters, seniors, and education. Perhaps the better idea would be to have them live with a family or in a tent for a week. They need a shot of reality. Time for them to walk the walk. Instead, they ‘visit’ and observe, shake their heads in pity, and keep mouthing ‘so sad’ yet they continue to make laws/rules that only benefit the few.
    I hope the Council in Woonsocket gets the bus it’s inspection sticker before it gets here. It was a weak excuse, along with the rest. If the bus isn’t here, no inspection is required until it is registered in R.I.
    One can only hope that 20 people will be housed soon. It’s a small start but a city had to get it done. Why can’t the state?

  2. Tj on June 5, 2023 at 2:06 pm

    Well seems like we’re on it ???

  3. Pauline DeRosa on June 5, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    The quote below is taken from the book I’m reading, ‘POVERTY, BY AMERICA’, written by Matthew Desmond:
    “….it’s a book about how the OTHER other half lives, about how some lives are made small so that others may grow.”
    This book should be required reading for everyone.

    • John Xavier on June 5, 2023 at 7:03 pm

      Participation trophies for everyone!!