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A black and white photo of a group of people sitting on a bench.

Promises made – and broken. Homeless get a waiting list as state unprepared for crisis.

5 days ago, the day before Thanksgiving, few of us were working, even fewer after noon on the day to plan for Thanksgiving – to cook our recipes, set our tables and plan what we would wear, and that we had enough chairs for all the visitors, adult and child.

In between some of these activities, a small group of reporters did what we do every day – try to shed the light on an issue that is confusing, but important. And from 8am to about 5pm, we fielded emails and phone messages about the issue of the hour – homelessness – and those who would spend the night – and the next day, Thanksgiving Day – outside, maybe in a tent, in this fortunate state of Rhode Island.

A campaign promise to make sure that every person living outside who wanted a bed would be offered one started as a nagging echo – and it got louder throughout the day, just as it had in the days before – because it would be a broken promise. There would be people still living outside at the RI State House, and in small parks and hidden passageways throughout Rhode Island. Providence is the most visible but there are homeless in Westerly, South County, Woonsocket, Newport, Pawtucket, and every other city and town in this fortunate Rhode Island.

Crisis deconstruction begins with a timeline – so we detail the timeline of Wednesday, Nov. 23rd. The failure to communicate and disorganization on this one day is just a hint into why this problem festers.

Mid-morning on Nov. 23rd a press release came from the Governor’s office:

“The McKee Administration today announced it has awarded $1.4 million to fund an additional 77 new emergency shelter beds. This round of funding is in addition to $4.1 million distributed over the last six months that helped fund 274 beds, bringing the total number of new shelter beds funded in 2022 to 351. With these additions, the Department of Housing expects the statewide shelter capacity to include more than 1,000 operational beds.

In addition, under the direction of Governor Dan McKee, Rhode Island’s new Department of Housing is also working to finalize additional initiatives that will add approximately 43 additional beds beyond the 77 announced today.”

We sought clarification. Where were these new beds? How would the people living outdoors be informed that they were available and how do they move into them?

9am to noon – Tara Granahan, WPRO, talk radio doing what it does best

For 3 hours Tara Granahan tried to clarify if those sleeping outside will be offered a bed, and can the radio station help to get this message out. She reports on the news release and takes various calls from agencies with no clear information. (unfortunately this time is not podcast – it parallels, vividly, our own experience).

9:30am – We called the CES line:

CES is the central intake line all homeless need to first go through to see about state housing and shelter beds. The person answering the phone said she had not heard about this – but that “if something is happening it’s not happening today”.

10:04am – We wrote to Matthew Sheaff, the Governor’s press secretary who had sent out the release. He responded:

“The release is very clear in what today’s news is:  Today we announced  $1.4 million to fund an additional 77 new emergency shelter beds. 

Additionally – this round of funding is in addition to $4.1 million distributed over the last six months that helped fund 274 beds, bringing the total number of new shelter beds funded in 2022 to 351. With these additions, the Department of Housing expects the statewide shelter capacity to include more than 1,000 operational beds.

Also, if you read further down in the release there is a statement from the Community Care Alliance:

“Community Care Alliance is pleased to partner with the State of RI on this project to provide a comprehensive approach to address the needs of the unhoused,” said Ben Lessing, President and CEO of the Community Care Alliance. “Owing to the reality that many of the people impacted have serious mental illness and addiction, an array of behavioral health services will be provided in addition to assisting individuals and families in accessing permanent housing as well as employment. This collaborative model which includes the Office for Housing, BHDDH and Community Care Alliance, represents an effective approach for addressing the needs of the unhoused population.”

10:30am – We reached out to the Community Care Alliance, based in Woonsocket. We were told no one can be put through to Ben Lessing, you have to go through his secretary – his secretary’s out of office message directed us to her voice mail – which was full. We called back. Tried a more direct route and asked about bed availability for tonight – the woman on the phone said, ‘nothing, we have nothing, our shelter is PACKED’ – we don’t know anything about more beds, but they’re not here.

10:40 am – We found a texting line at CES, and by this time some time had passed, so we tried again – The texting line at CES responded, “Hello, not sure what you are referring to if you are experiencing homeless you can call our helpline at 401-277-4316 and fill out a Crisis Assesment form”.

10:50am – Back to the Governor’s office by email – with this response:
“I’m having trouble following your email – are you saying you texted Caitlin or Margaux from RICEH and they told you “nothing is happening?”

We responded by inquiring who was Caitlin or Margaux? – then we went on the RI Coalition to End Homeless website and found Caitlin (director) and Margaux (asst. director). We called Margaux on her listed phone number and she answered – there was a lot of activity in the background and she said she was on a ZOOM call and would get right back to us.

10:58am – Back to the Governor’s Office:

“Both organizations (RICEH & CCA) are partners on this shelter expansion. So I’m just trying to figure out who you are quoting since it clearly is not the leadership of the organizations. Can you let me know? The news in the release is accurate and pretty self-explanatory.”

11:21am – Email from Margeaux Morisseau, at RICEH:

“I am in an important meeting until noon. I will call you as soon as I can. Please do not contact anyone else at the Coalition”. 

11:22am – We respond to Margeaux seeking clarification and objecting to the directive not to contact anyone else.

11:40am – Tara Granahan announces on WPRO that Josh Saahl, the housing czar, ultimately responsible for the homeless arrangements will call in at 4pm to the Dan Yorke Show to provide further details and clarifications.

1:15pm – Response from Margeaux:

“I do not have the information you are requesting.  All we have is the shelter beds that are available in the CES system. Since we are not the funder of beds coming online, we do not have the information of when beds will come online. I contacted the comms team at the governor’s office and the office of housing to get assistance with your request and they said they already provided you with the information you are requesting.”

1:53pm – From the Governor’s office:

Hello and thanks for emailing, I am out of the office returning Monday, November 28. Please note, State Offices will be closed on Thursday, November 24th in honor of Thanksgiving.  During this time, I will have limited access to email. If you need immediate assistance, please reach out to my colleague Andrea at andrea.r.palagi@governor.ri.gov.

1:55pm – We responded. We have not heard back from Andrea.

4:10pm – Receive an email from Chris Raia, who speaks for Commerce RI’s housing czar, Josh Saal:

“The funding has been provided to Community Care Alliance. Their executive director is quoted in the press release. The 77 beds will be in the Smithfield area. As we are working to determine whether these beds will serve sensitive populations, we aren’t able to be more specific on the exact location at this time. There are no pallet shelters involved in this funding.”

4:00pm – Dan Yorke on WPRO interviews Josh Saal – they talk for 15 minutes:

Key takeaways from their conversation:

Saal disputes the numbers who are “homeless” and says the numbers are not as important as the big picture – says there is nuance to the numbers of between 400 and 600 homeless at the moment. People are staying in shelters a lot longer, so they have to add beds. 350+ beds coming online and strengthening “front line work”. 77 emergency beds now funded brings the numbers to 350. When asked where are the beds, Saal responded “all over the state”. Coalition says 1,000 people in need, with 600 emergent. Saal said they are working on it. There is a life-safety issue outside of the shelter system that also kicks in. Saal says he does not agree with 600 number at all. He says that all those who are outside RIGHT NOW can be offered a bed if they contact the system.

4:30pm – Dan Yorke then speaks with Eric Hirsch, homeless advocate, chair of database tracking system for the homeless. They speak for 28 minutes:

Key takeaways:

Agrees there are approx. 652 on a waiting list for shelter who say they have been outside for at least 1 night in the last 2 weeks. We think 482 are outside right now. 77 beds coming quickly, then 43 after that – falls far short of what we need, far short of Gov’s promise. Right now, people are being referred to a waiting list – not a shelter bed. Unprecedented crisis – never had this many people living outside. The state is adding about the same number they usually add, which will not deal with the crisis. We need to do much more, urgently. It’s false to say people are being offered shelter – they are being offered a phone number to call CES. Because of COVID’s programs of rent relief and eviction protections going away, the crisis has been dramatically increased. Best kind of program is “whatever people need” – rent assistance, etc. is the way to go. More than 80 tent encampments in RI now (multiple tents). Proposed solution for more than a year is Pallet Shelter. It’s too late for that now. Not sure why that was delayed. Solution is to reopen the hotels. Only short term solution. Time has run out now. Capacity and availability hasn’t been determined, but a lot could be found. Extremely expensive solution. FEMA is still picking up the bill. Pallet shelters are about $7,500 each. $250 Million available to build housing.

Friday, Nov. 25th – Announced that on Tuesday, the State Properties Committee is set to vote on a proposal to turn an unused state building on Hartford Avenue in Providence into a shelter with 16 beds. The plan involves up to $200,000 in renovations of the former Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals building and finding a private operator to run it.

Updates:

Saturday, Nov. 26th – Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins on 10 News Conference with Gene Valicenti

Hopkins says he still does not trust the state to local Pallet Houses on the state property – and says Cranston is doing its share – Monday, TODAY, the city council will vote on a resolution reinforcing this position with the state.

Sunday, Nov. 27th – Eileen Hayes, Amos House HERE (VIDEO) – talks with Joe Paolino, Jr.

Hayes announced that 30 families are being “housed” at Memorial Hospital and that will be doubled to 60 in the next few weeks. 475 people on the street without shelter beds. Many rental houses have been sold and people evicted. 2 BR need $1400 a month, without utilities. 180 people with housing vouchers that pay 70% rent for that unit – but there are no places to rent. Talks about how important it is to get everyone in the room together with the Mayor and the Governor. Hayes response, “I wish!”. Building more shelter is not the solution, it’s getting them into homes. Also mentions rapidly deployable shelters – Pallet Shelters – looking for a place to do this – people on street don’t want to be in a large shelter. Maybe we should purchase hotels rather than rent them – millions of dollars spent in rent with nothing to show at the end of it. We need compassion. We need solutions. People need a sense of purpose.

Monday, Nov. 28th – Community Care Alliance – Smithfield Motel – it was announced by ConvergenceRI this morning that this group received $1.44 million to lease out the SureStay Motel to provide 56 units and house 70 individuals with wrap-around services to include a Methodone Van, Thundermist primary care, with 24/7 staffing including security. Kudos to Richard Asinof of ConvergenceRI for finding this information amidst a complete shut down of transparency by the state.

Monday, Nov. 28th – Pawtucket Police Department

Pawtucket reports some people have used the department lobby as a “warming center” but have not slept there overnight – but this needs to be confirmed with community relations.

Monday, Nov. 28th – 7pm – Cranston City Council

Not NIMBY, but rather, “It’s All In My Backyard” in Cranston. With over 150 homeless living in Harrington Hall, Cranston considers a resolution tonight. Policies at Harrington are simply overnight housing with a mandatory out-the-door at 7am, and not able to return until 5pm. This leaves the homeless who choose to stay in Cranston for the day wandering the shopping centers, drug stores, neighborhood streets, and libraries. Problems so significant the Cranston police have stationed an officer in the main library to watch over the children’s area as many of the homeless are atypical at Harrington and are registered sex offenders and child molesters. The action part of the resolution is here:

Tuesday – Nov. 29th – the state Properties Committee will meet on a proposal to turn 662 Hartford Avenue in Providence, currently leased by BHDDH into temporary shelter services. the building is .1mile or a 4-minute walk from DelSesto Middle School.

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As we go to press….numerous requests for information about the status of the Pawtucket building at-the-ready to be used for immediate shelter housing have gone unanswered. The new proposal to use a the Hartford Ave. BHDDH building is in play. Hotel rooms are being discussed again as the only solution in this crisis. Will they spread rooms out or continue to look for full motel take-overs with staffing and locating people all in one spot? Pallet shelters will not be the answer this year due to time – but will surely surface for next year.

It’s going to be a cold and raw week. What will we see happen as Rhode Island returns to work? Will the tent city at the RI State House or the little parks – said to be part of over 80 encampments in Rhode Island still be there at the end of the week? Next week? At Christmas? This is the year someone may die living outside. As Russ Partridge, director of The Warm Center in South County said, “This year is – and will be – a game changer.”

As Eileen Hayes of Amos House has said, “I wish…” everyone could get in the same room and come up with a plan. These are extraordinary times.

This is a developing story.

UPDATES – Nov. 28th, Monday:

Warwick – Amos House at Motel Six – 40-70 people/families will be housed at the Motel 6 in Warwick. Mayor Picozzi of Warwick posted about this on Facebook and has dozens of offers for help for those now living there.

RI State House Holiday Tree lighting – set for Nov. 30th – the day before the deadline given the tent dwellers at the RI State House to leave or be removed.

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3 Comments

  1. December Letter From The Editor – Street Sights on December 1, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    […] Just in From RInewstoday.com: “Promises Made – And Broken. Homeless Get A Waiting List As State Unprepared For Crisis” published on November 28, 2022. https://rinewstoday.com/promises-made-and-broken-homeless-get-a-waiting-list-as-state-unprepared-for… […]



  2. Rev. Duane Clinker on November 28, 2022 at 6:57 pm

    This is I think, a powerful documentary of the cluelessness that seems apparent in the State management right now from the Governor’s office on down. A dramatic hour by hour to get information that should be easily available to the public, let alone the unhoused. Thank you for this coverage.



  3. Lesley M. on November 28, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you, RINewstoday for informing Cranston residents that there is a City Council meeting tonight, 11/28.
    I watched the first meeting via Zoom where three council members didn’t bother to attend. We are not being informed of important matters but have to find out from sources such as yours.
    Hopefully, the Zoom problems have been resolved since then. I couldn’t get a direct attachment and had to watch via YouTube.
    Again, thanks for making information such as this available.