A wheelchair on the steps of a building.

Homeless in RI: Pawtucket problem well known to city. Housing czar report. City updates.

Homelessness issue is not restricted to the capital city of Providence. In the last few days encampments have been taken down in Woonsocket and in Warwick. And talk has been happening about the long-standing homelessness issue in Pawtucket.

Homelessness in Pawtucket

Reports of “encampments” in Slater Park were clarified by the city’s Parks Director who said that there is currently no encampment at Slater Park. There are some folks sparse throughout the park, but there is no “encampment” per say.”  

There were numerous new comments that the homeless are leaving feces on the sidewalk near the Slater Mill and are sleeping and loitering around the national park area as well as the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. One source said, “Yes, I can absolutely confirm that. Feces on the sidewalk and people sleeping in the doorways of the visitor center has been a chronic problem for a long time. That’s not anything new. And the city is well aware – the Visitor Center staff do everything they can to keep the area clean. They are the good guys in this. It’s just overwhelming at times.”

Another source noted, “…whenever they shut down a homeless camp, there is a wave here with these problems. The homeless ride the buses around and then congregate at the bus stations (Pawtucket and Kennedy Plaza), networking with each other trying to find a new place to go. Then they often end up living here on the sidewalks for a while until they figure it out. We have gotten to know several of these folks very well.” The source estimated the problem has grown over the last five years, but goes back that long.

There is often a food giveaway from the trunks of cars on Roosevelt Avenue near the Slater Mill. The city says there is “no official meal site at the Visitor Center/Bus Stop”. City spokesperson Grace Voll spoke with staff at the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, and “they confirmed that every so often some volunteers from local churches will bring by food. While the volunteers have been offered to use the Visitor Center as a meal site, they have declined. The Visitor Center is open to all, whether it be tourists or locals. It is also used as one of the city’s warming centers. This serves as a safe space for folks to use the bathroom if needed and warm up during low temperature weather.” Recently Pawtucket announced several daytime warming centers and that the Pawtucket Police station on Roosevelt would be open 24/7, 7 days a week for those needing shelter.

Memorial Hospital

Voll said, in terms of Memorial Hospital, that “the city has mainly been involved in terms of zoning and permitting. The State had contracted with the private owner (Lockwood Development) of the former Memorial Hospital site to have Amos House operate a family shelter. They had an original agreement and have since modified the agreement. The families were originally housed in the facility on an emergency basis because of the need last year. On November 18th there was a flood in that area of the building, due to a sprinkler line break. There was significant water damage to walls, floors, and fixtures on all three floors. These families were then placed in hotels.

While the Mayor is disheartened that the original vision for this project as a Veterans home fell through, he hopes the potential new developer’s plan is in line with what Pawtucket residents want and need. The Mayor will continue to do everything he can to protect residents in the surrounding neighborhood and their interests.”

Voll noted, “Because homelessness is a regional problem, the city has multiple departments supporting the efforts of the state. Paula McFarland is the Executive Director of the Pawtucket Housing Association – and – the Mayor’s Office, alongside our Planning and Zoning Department, work closely with Paula and the PHA as well.”

Woonsocket Update

We learned that the Woonsocket encampment had approximately 8 individuals left living in the tents and they had been notified about 2 weeks prior that soon they could not stay there. They were offered emergency shelter and given 20 minutes to do a final clear-out before the DPW workers in Woonsocket cleared out all the tents, belongings and trash, including drug paraphernalia on the state-owned property.

An update from the Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket noted that “the Northern RI Shelter is currently providing shelter for 60 (not as 6 the agency originally mistakenly reported) adults and children; the facility’s capacity is near 80. Since opening, we have been accepting referrals from CES for individuals and families from throughout Rhode Island, some of whom were in previous hotel voucher programs and recently, a number of families identified by DCYF. It is clear based on the need across RI, the Shelter will be at capacity shortly.” The Northern RI Shelter is the hotel in Smithfield – the Sure Stay Hotel – leased by the state for $1.44 million, and turned over to CCA just after Thanksgiving. Vice President of Social Health Services at CCA, Michelle Taylor further clarified: “As of today, there are 77 people at the Shelter. 39 rooms are occupied. They have 6 referrals that are coming to them today or tomorrow.  2 are couples, so this will bring them to a total of 85 adults and children. They will have 5 rooms left when they admit all of this in process referrals.”

We also learned that two weeks ago a homeless man in Woonsocket died of a drug overdose. Ben Lessing, CEO of CCA provided the details: “The person was living outside but I can’t say where as I don’t know but based on feedback from our staff, he was chronically homeless. He got out of the cold his last night which is when he overdosed. His friend reported to our staff the next day that he thought he died. Our staff immediately went to this person’s apartment and tried to revive client while also calling 911. We were too late as he was pronounced dead at the hospital. 

We often see an uptick in drug use as individuals become disheartened, depressed, disappointed for the lack of shelter. It is the only way some folks know how to cope with an awful situation. We often see the reverse once shelter is secured, health improves overall.”

Coalition Radio’s Pat Ford speaks to Steven D’Agostino, Woonsocket DPW

Warwick Update

The second encampment in the news that had been cleared was in Warwick, near the mall and the 295 on/off ramp area. Mayor Frank Picozzi provided this statement on the Warwick event: “The encampment in Warwick has been empty for many weeks. Shelter was found for all of the former residents. They took all of the possessions that they chose to keep and left behind what they didn’t want. What occurred yesterday was the state cleaning up the debris, which I believe was done by a private company.“

RI Department of Housing – missing plan

The report that was due to the RI Legislature on 12/31/22 that was not submitted was submitted in the last 24 hours. A link to that plan is here:

The study notes: “There is already a severe shortage of affordable rental housing, and this problem will be only exacerbated as Rhode Island’s population continues to age. Rhode Island is currently [the] 9th oldest state in the nation with a median age of 40.0 and the housing stock is similarly aging.”

While much of the data is not new or purposeful or is noted as insufficient data available, the summary and recommendation section is below. Note that the RI Department of Housing, of which Josh Saal is in the head position and referred to as the “housing czar” only comes into existence until January 1st of 2023. Saal indicates he will hire a consultant to do the state’s comprehensive Housing Plan.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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