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Smithfield motel leased for $1.44M for new homeless shelter approach – Richard Asinof

by Richard Asinof, ConvergenceRI, contributing writer

With the weather deteriorating, with hospitals exceeding their capacity, here are the facts: The Community Care Alliance of Rhode Island, a nonprofit agency based in Woonsocket, has received a six-month state contract, in the form a purchase order for $1.44 million, to lease a building on the site of the Sure Stay Hotel in Smithfield, just down the road from Bryant University, to serve as a homeless shelter facility.

The goal is to create a comprehensive approach to the current “unhoused” crisis in Rhode Island, involving wrap-around services in order to provide stability to the population, responsive to health care, transportation, and employment needs where possible, while seeking to transition the individuals and families to more permanent housing.

• The 56 rooms on site at Sure Stay will provide housing for up to 70 individuals and their families, on a temporary basis.

• Primary care health services, when needed, will be provided by Thundermist Health Center at the Community Care Alliance’s Safe Haven Drop-In Center in Woonsocket.

• CCA is in neogitations to utilize CODAC’s Mobile Van to support individuals in need of medical services such as Suboxone and Methadone, similar to the current collaboation.

• The site will have 24-hour/7-day-a-week staffing, which will involve both case management and security.

• The Sure Stay project will be coordinated by the Community Care Alliance, working in partnership with the state’s Office for Housing, the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, the Town of Smithfield, and CCA’s Safe-Haven Drop-In Center.

The background
The project has been in the works for weeks if not months, according to a number of sources, who called this new investment an example of “how public-private collaborations can address the needs of the state’s marginalized residents and forge creative solutions.”  The Rhode Island Foundation has played a convening role in fostering greater pubic-private collaboration and in pushing negotiations forward with Gov. Dan McKee, according to sources.

None of these “details,” however, were made available as part of the news release put out by the Governor’s office on Wednesday morning, Nov. 23, leading to a host of misleading stories and story lines, with a heavy dose of “shaming” being thrown about like a blanket of blame.

Translated, the human needs of Rhode Islanders too often have become a political football game, with everyone – from radio talk show hosts to reporters, from housing advocates to hired public relations consultants – trying to score points, in ConvergenceRI’s opinion.

Some observations
The Sure Stay Hotel’s location along Route 116 will require transportation investments as well – allowing for some innovative approaches and solutions to public transportation to be adopted and implemented, particularly when serving a population with limited access to cars.

Further, the location of the Sure Stay Hotel, down a hill off Route 116, with few if any residential properties abutting the facility, means that the folks busy promoting the Not-In-My-Backyard philosophy, will be hard-pressed to drum up opposition. No doubt these “nattering nabobs of negatism,” to borrow a phrase used by former Vice President Spiro Agnew in September of 1970 [but written by Nixon speechwriter William Safire] will try to do so. “They have formed their own 4-H Club – the ‘hopeless hysterical hypochondriacs of history,’” as Agnew once claimed, directed at liberals.

The opportunities are there to create a new kind of village – not the artificial village of a shopping center with corporate chain stores and restaurants, but a ground-up innovation hub of a community.

• Imagine a home-grown grocery store run as a food coop, which provided free cooking classes, taught by local chefs, as well as day-care for young parents?

• Or, a second-hand clothing store and tailoring shop that provided free sewing classes, once again with free daycare?

• Or, a family-style restaurant that feature low-cost, healthy meals, with an emphasis families sharing tables together, much like old-style eateries? Not to mention a community growing space.

• Why not the creation of a combined soccer field, softball field and basketball court on the property, providing a way for residents to engage in pick-up games and children to hone their physical skills?

• How about a free, wire-mesh Wi-Fi network, based on the work of ONE|NB Connects, to service the facility, providing a way for residents to connect to the Internet, a necessity of our modern lives and health care?

• And, of course, a free laundry for residents – to enable them to clean their clothes for free.

In short, all the opportunities that create connectedness in a community – a place that can welcome newcomers, while, at the same time, promoting an upward progression of economic survival skills for the longer-term residents.

Moving forward, the question is: How can other communities in Rhode Island step up to the plate and develop similar collaborative programs to address the needs of the most vulnerable residents?

The shame index
If the state is still unwilling to invest in creating an Index of the Rhode Island Innovation Economy, perhaps it can lend its budget surplus to creating a Shame Index, calculating and integrating the ongoing data emerging from the broken social safety net covering the state’s most vulnerable residents.


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Richard Asinof is the founder and editor of ConvergenceRI, an online subscription newsletter offering news and analysis at the convergence of health, science, technology and innovation in Rhode Island.