News & Event
Posted: Apr 27, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 at 12:28 PM
Lunch won’t be served for another 15 minutes, but the line is already out the door at McAuley House on Elmwood Avenue.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Lunch won’t be served for another 15 minutes, but the line is already out the door at McAuley House on Elmwood Avenue.
Seemingly out of nowhere, dozens of people converge just after 11 o’clock. Many arrive by bus, others by foot and some by car, all knowing that during a day filled with uncertainty a meal at McAuley is something they can count on.
By 1 o’clock, volunteers and staff on this Friday during Lent will have served more than 200 plates of fish, rice, coleslaw, bread and dessert to the steady stream of “guests” — some homeless, but many who work and need help stretching a paycheck, especially at the end of the month. While breakfast and lunch are the main draw here, the staff helps with a full array of wraparound services — from securing bus passes and prescription eyewear to housing and medication — through its outreach center.
McAuley House is only one part of the lesser-known McAuley Ministries, which also runs a thrift store in Central Falls and a two-year transitional housing/workforce development program for 23 single mothers and their children in South Providence that is seeing impressive results.
“McAuley Ministries has always been a quiet ministry, hasn’t sought a lot of publicity, but we want people to know we’re much broader than just the meal site,″ said executive director Don Wolfe. “It’s really a spectrum of food, shelter, clothing and respect for the most vulnerable in the community.″
McAuley’s roots stretch back to the 1830s in Dublin, Ireland, when Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy, creating a place for homeless mothers and their children. Her goal was to educate and train the young women to do something productive. When the Irish immigration came to the United States, the Sisters of Mercy came with them, some arriving in Providence. Today, two sisters still work at McAuley, one as an outreach worker, the other as an administrative assistant.
The first McAuley House in Rhode Island opened in 1975 in South Providence, before moving to its current location in 2004; McAuley Village with 23 apartments was built in 1990, modeled after a program in Hartford. The Warde-robe, named for Sister of Mercy Frances Warde, initially opened as a store for low-cost children’s clothing on Broad Street in Central Falls in 1996. Within walking distance for many, the locals called it The Nuns’ Store as it was created by two retired Sisters of Mercy.
Every Wednesday the community room in the basement of McAuley Village is packed by 5:15 p.m., as all the mothers who are not working or in class gather for a community dinner with their children. Every week a different mother cooks for everyone. It is a time to catch up, give the kids a chance to interact and hear from speakers who periodically come in after dinner to talk about things like parenting or nutrition.
“Many of our families have never lived in a place longer than two years, so this might be the first time in their lives that they have actually had a bed,″ said the Rev. Michele Matott, an Episcopal priest who serves as the administrator at the Village. “Often our residents are moving in from broken families themselves, domestic violence situation, shelters; they’ve never had a sense of community.″
The program is challenging, with specific expectations and regular status meetings to make sure the mothers are achieving certain benchmarks. Each resident is expected to contribute 30 percent of her paycheck toward rent ($50 per month if she’s in school). The mothers have to be at least 20 years old and their children 10 or younger. McAuley has childcare available in the building and counselors who begin working right away toward settling families in permanent housing when they leave. There is a nine- to 12-month waiting list to get into the McAuley Village program.
“We push them hard and there are times that they complain, but that’s what we seek, to develop a community where you can come and we talk about the issues and the problems you’re facing,″ Matott said, adding that McAuley has a 93-percent success rate of mothers remaining in housing after completing the program — and not going back into a shelter. The rate in New York City, she said, is about 30 percent.
“I am passionate about the program because if I had this opportunity I would have gone a lot further in my education,″ said Odette Delgado, who has been the resident services coordinator the past five years. Delgado said what makes the program unique is that all of the services are under one roof.
“I’m a single mom too, so I’ve been there,″ she said. “I make them aware this is a once-in-your-lifetime opportunity and you need to take advantage of it. Because right now you don’t have to worry about the things that you’re going to have to worry about once you’re out of here.″
Matott said that over the last five years, the women leaving McAuley Village have gone on to become medical assistants, x-ray technologists, pharmacy technicians, nurses, school bus drivers, childcare assistants, dental hygienists, dental assistants and accountants.
“It’s wonderful to watch them go from no education, no parenting skills and no job readiness skills and to see them in permanent housing with a full-time job often and their children have excelled in schools,″ she said.
At the north end of Broad Street in Central Falls, the Warde-robe has been a go-to place the past two decades for struggling families needing clothing and household items. The store has seen a transformation since Andres Montoya was hired three months ago as its new administrator. Being bilingual has been a big plus.
“We are able to provide gently used clothes for the community for a low price, but also we provide them a welcome smile and we always try to listen,″ said Montoya, who came to Rhode Island from Colombia when he was 21. He was looking to combine ministry with a retail touch, after working at Banana Republic for eight years.
“Sometimes you don’t really need to sell, sometimes people are in need of someone to listen to their struggles,″ he said.
Montoya has already made small, but significant, changes: separating out boys and girls clothing and putting signs throughout the store to direct customers to the inventory. He also puts a mannequin in a stylish dress out front with an “open” sign during store hours. And he has increased the hours of operation. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
He stressed that the store could not thrive without a cadre of volunteers. “The passion of my volunteers and the donations we receive,″ he said. “When you open the back door to receive donations you see the smile on their faces.”
Montoya said a men’s T-shirt averages 50 cents, a pair of pants $2.25. Customers often come in several times a week because new donations arrive daily. He is also mindful that while the store is a ministry, it also has to be self-sustaining financially.
“I like to implement different styles around the building just to enhance not only the presentation but also to make people aware of everything we have,″ he said.
Yvette Kenner came to McAuley House a month ago, after spending 10 years as the executive director of the South Providence Neighborhood Ministries six blocks away. She said she was attracted by McAuley House’s array of services for a population often facing multiple challenges.
“It’s tough because people don’t know where their next meal is coming from and when you’re elderly or young and on limited income, you’re saying to yourself, ‘What do I do, do I buy groceries this month, do I pay for medication this month, do I pay my electric bill this month?’” she said.
Kenner is both a smiling face, a calming voice and a forceful presence when necessary as hundreds of people pass through the doors of McAuley House every day, beginning with a breakfast offering of yogurt and cereal. McAuley House has also transitioned into a healthy foods program, where every meal is carefully planned with good eating habits in mind.
McAuley Ministries’ annual budget is $1.5 million, most of which the nonprofit raises by contributions from individual donors, grants, foundations and from corporate sponsors. And for the past decade corporate partners have participated in the Lunch on Us program, committing to help with lunches for an entire month — often bringing in 40 or 50 employees over the course of four weeks to help.
“Every corporate volunteer says they want to come back,″ said Wolfe, the executive director who will retire this summer after 12 years. “Everybody has something in their heart that says they want to give to someone in need and this is a real opportunity to do that. It was an eye-opener for me to come and work here. It’s an eye-opener for many folks to see folks who are in a different financial level, different financial stresses, to be thankful for what you have — and to the best of your ability to support those folks in need. We all need to do that.″
The Rhode Island Spotlight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. Reach Jim Hummel at Jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.
For a look at the work of McAuley Ministries, visit us online at providencejournal.com/rispotlight.
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Posted:Feb 9, 2018 at 7:53 PM
Updated:Feb 10, 2018 at 12:04 AM
For 11 years, United Way’s 2-1-1 has been helping Rhode Islanders in need, handling 194,735 calls in 2017, many from people seeking financial help, information about health services, or food.
“Hello. United Way. 2-1-1. May I help you?”
Each time call center specialist Tony Medeiros answers the phone, he has no idea what awaits him on the other end of the line. United Way of Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 call center provides round-the-clock free assistance to those looking for help finding affordable food, housing, health care, transportation and more.
Twice last week, Medeiros took calls from people who were suicidal. Sometimes the most desperate calls he gets, he says, are from people seeking help with a gambling addiction. Others need help finding affordable housing.
One woman calls regularly to ask the time or the temperature. Medeiros thinks she’s lonely, so he’s started asking her about her day.
“That’s OK. She just needs to talk to somebody for a few minutes,” he said recently.
The call center acts as a one-stop-shop for resources. Its workers are trained on the offerings and applications processes of various social service and health-care programs, as well as church groups, nonprofits, shelters and more. When a person calls with one problem, call-center workers will talk through their living conditions to make them aware of other services that could also be of help.
On Sunday, United Way celebrates National 2-1-1 Day. United Way’s 2-1-1 service has been available in Rhode Island 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, since 2007.
“I listen to their story,” said Medeiros, whose shift starts at 6 a.m. “They might be saying one thing but there’s more going on. ... Sometimes people are in a domestic violence situation and they don’t even recognize it.”
United Way 2-1-1 took 194,735 calls in Rhode Island last year, a slight decrease from the 195,344 calls in 2016. But call specialists are finding higher anxiety among callers and are spending considerably more time on each call. In December 2016, the average call time was a little more than two minutes. In December 2017, the average call time was 5½ minutes, the organization reports.
Nationally, 2-1-1 answered a total of more than 14.3 million requests for help in 2017. The service is available for 94 percent of Americans, according to a spokesman for the United Way of Rhode Island, and in most parts of Canada.
Sandi Connors, executive vice president and director of strategic marketing and communications at United Way, said the trends in Rhode Island calls are reflected at 2-1-1 centers across the country. It’s not yet clear what is driving the changes, she said.
Some of the most difficult calls come from homeless families seeking shelter, Connors said. Some 72 families are currently on a waiting list for space in a family shelter.
“The hardest days are when we get the calls we can’t help,” Connors said.
Those days are often countered by others in which workers feel they’ve made a difference.
Program manager Tina Pearl remembered a call that came in to the hotline on Thanksgiving from an elderly woman who said there was an “uninvited guest” in her home. She had already called the police, who checked out the situation and determined there wasn’t an intruder. But the call center worker and Pearl determined they should also make a home visit.
It turned out there wasn’t anyone else in the home, Pearl said. The woman hadn’t eaten but she thought someone was coming over for dinner. She was confused, suffering from dementia and other health problems. They were eventually able to get her to the hospital.
“That’s why we go to work every day,” Pearl said.
2-1-1 calls, by the numbers
Here are some of the most common reasons Rhode Islanders called 2-1-1 in 2017.
Financial assistance: 162,936
Health information: 112,411
The Senate worked with dozens of individuals and organizations to develop the legislation, including those participating in the roundtable and others who were in the audience.
The package encourages residential development by updating the building inspection process, much of which hasn’t been changed since the 1970s and 1980s. It proposes new housing options so individuals and families struggling to find suitable housing have new options, including accessory dwellings.
The legislation also proposes expanding apprenticeship opportunities in school construction contracts, and it encourages K-12 school systems to teach children of all ages that apprenticeships are among the options they can pursue as they consider careers.
It also reflects a commitment to continue researching issues that require further study, including housing, additional apprenticeship options, the seafood industry, and health care provider reimbursement rates.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the folks in this room – with business, with labor, with cities and towns, and with the public – to build a more vibrant Rhode Island,” said President Ruggerio.
The legislative initiatives are outlined on the following pages.
# # #
SENATE POLICY OFFICE
Building a More Vibrant Rhode Island
Courtesy of the State of Rhode Island General Assembly
Homelessness in Rhode Island is on the rise. The state saw a 1.7 percent increase in homelessness this year according to a new report by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Statewide, 1,180 people experienced homelessness on a single day earlier this year. Nearly 400 were children in homeless families; almost 100 were veterans. Of even greater concern, Rhode Island’s chronically homeless population nearly doubled, increasing from 136 to 240.
After years of successfully reducing homelessness, Rhode Island’s homeless numbers are heading in the wrong direction. The solution to ending homelessness is actually pretty simple. Our “Housing First” model effectively gets people off the streets, out of shelter — and into permanent, affordable housing with the support services necessary to help them remain housed. Unfortunately, Rhode Island simply does not have enough housing that is affordable and meets people's needs.
Fortunately, social service agencies like Crossroads Rhode Island step in to bridge the gap. But hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal funding cuts, including the loss of Housing Stabilization dollars through Medicaid, Road Home and the Neighborhood Opportunities Program, are significantly reducing the amount of aid available for 2018 and beyond.
It’s the chronically homeless, the state’s most vulnerable population, who are likely to pay the price. Many of these individuals struggle with physical and mental illness, hunger and poverty — fighting every day just to survive. Without adequate funding for housing and support programs, they will end up back on the street, sleeping in doorways, camping under highway overpasses or staying in shelters.
Recently, 283 people slept in a Crossroads shelter, including 53 children in 27 families. Others sought refuge at different shelters — or bundled up in outdoor places where no one should have to spend a cold, winter night.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but helping those people find permanent housing solutions will ultimately cost taxpayers far less than keeping them in shelters. Research shows that the chronically homeless are much higher users of Medicaid, police, fire and rescue and other services.
A 2013 study of 67 chronically homeless Rhode Island Medicaid users revealed charges of $59,651 per person, more than double Medicaid charges for the average housed, disabled adult. In fact, over the course of 26 months, those 67 individuals cost the state $9.3 million in Medicaid costs alone.
Over the last three years, Crossroads helped more than 3,000 people move into permanent housing—and stay there. Several had been living in shelters for 10 years or more. Ten years. Let that sink in. Imagine how much it cost taxpayers to shelter those individuals for more than a decade, never mind what it would be like to live in a homeless shelter for that long.
The bottom line is that programs like “Housing First” save more taxpayer dollars than reducing funding. Working together, we can reduce the number of men, women and children experiencing homelessness, help save taxpayer dollars and find every Rhode Islander a safe place to call home this holiday season.
— Karen Santilli is president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island.
April 06, 2018
The solution is to site projects in places that make sense environmentally and societally. The current policy, though, is nothing more than a collective shrug and the repeated claim that it’s cheaper to cut down trees than redevelop disturbed areas.
PROVIDENCE — Both climate solutions are identified as “green” — in fact, one literally is — but the Mother Nature-created one is being destroyed to make room for the manmade one.
Some proponents of the latter say chunks of the former need to be sacrificed if society is to kick its dirty fossil-fuel habitat. Their well-intentioned argument goes something like this: we can’t say no to everything and we need renewable energy.
While renewable energy is a must, it shouldn’t be given carte blanche to be sited anywhere and everywhere. If that’s the development practice Rhode Island embraces, environmental degradation will continue. Public health will suffer.
Rhode Island could lead the way, and the best place to start would be to stop bulldozing trees, covering open space and marginalizing farmland in the name of green energy. This effort would require some universal sacrifice, diversified leadership, a touch of political will, National Grid mapping Rhode Island’s grid capacity, accounting that includes environmental and public-health costs, plenty of carrots, and at least one stick (disincentivize).
“Grow Smart strongly endorses the governor’s renewable-energy goals (1,000 megawatts by 2020), but how we achieve that goal is as important as how that goal is reached,” said Scott Millar, community technical assistance manager for Grow Smart Rhode Island. “We need to concentrate as much growth as possible in the urban developed core.”
Two workshops at Grow Smart Rhode Island’s recent all-day Power of Place Summit held at the Rhode Island Convention Center explored the intersection of green energy and green space.
A morning workshop titled “Rhode Island Forests: Our Invisible Green Giant” discussed the condition of the state’s forests, their economic contributions and how the use of smart-growth techniques can accommodate economic opportunity, such as renewable-energy development, while preserving forestland.
An afternoon workshop titled “A Smart Growth Approach to Renewable Energy Siting” discussed the strategies needed to increase incentives for siting solar and wind projects in and on already-developed areas.
Rhode Island has ambitious goals for renewable-energy generation, and expanding solar and wind power is critical to meeting these goals and reducing, and eventually eliminating, greenhouse-gas emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Energy efficiency also plays a major role in reducing Rhode Island’s reliance on out-of-state fossil fuels, most notably natural gas.
Currently, the state’s rural communities — Coventry, Foster, Exeter, Richmond and Hopkinton, to name a few — are being asked, some would argue made, to sacrifice forests and farmland for renewable-energy sprawl. It’s a counterproductive situation that is frustrating conservationists, municipal planners, developers and landowners.
The siting of solar and wind projects is a complex issue wrapped in property rights, tax revenues, the carrying capacity of power-grid infrastructure, smart grids, microgrids, energy storage, incentives, and environmental protections. Municipal ordinances and comprehensive plans aren’t designed to address Rhode Island’s land rush that is trampling woodlands and taking farmland out of production.
Exeter’s renewable-energy ordinance, for example, was adopted in late 2015, after applications were filed for two small solar projects. Since then, a Rhode Island developer has proposed erecting four solar-energy systems totaling nearly 37 megawatts of energy.
Foster’s new town planner is dealing with four recently built solar projects, one that is under construction, one that is headed to the Planning Board and two more that are in the preliminary stages. Forty acres in the Scituate Reservoir watershed have already been clear-cut to accommodate the first five renewable-energy projects, according to Jennifer Siciliano.
A proposed 32.7-megawatt solar project on 567 mostly wooded acres along Shermantown and Tower Hill roads in North Kingstown has created much resident angst. To address the town’s outpouring of concern, the developer recently cut the project’s megawatt proposal by more than half.
In Cranston, 60 acres of forestland was clear-cut and ledge was blasted to make room for 60,000 solar panels.
Exeter’s planner, Ashley Sweet, told ecoRI News last month that the town needs to “beef up” its ordinance to deal with utility-scale energy projects.
“The current ordinance doesn’t adequately protect the town or meet the comprehensive plan,” she said. “We have a private solar developer who has targeted Exeter and is trying to annihilate zoning ordinances for utility development.”
Few oppose Rhode Island’s need for more wind and solar energy, but where many of these projects are being built or proposed is a growing problem. During the past few years Rhode Island has experienced a land grab to build renewable energy in areas with capacity, most of it solar and much of it on farmland and forestland. In fact, the state’s energy programs and incentives inadvertently push such development to green space. Efforts to change this paradigm are moving slowly.
To build renewable-energy projects on landfills — Rhode Island has about 100, according to Millar — brownfields, rooftops, parking lots and other developed areas requires carrots, such as incentives, renewable-energy certificates (commonly called RECs), tax breaks, favorable lease rates, and grants.
Other developed and disturbed areas, such as gravel banks, median strips, land along highways and vacant big-box stores and their vast parking lots, don’t require as many, if any, carrots to reappropriate. Millar noted that underutilized fields that aren’t covering prime farmland soil would also make sense for renewable-energy development.
Rhode Island has an ample inventory of these developed and underused areas, but they are largely ignored when it comes to erecting wind and solar infrastructure. The Ocean States needs to reverse this shortsighted trend, and quickly.
New England neighbors Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont have already forged a system that incentivizes the development of renewable energy in preferred locations.
Vermont, for instance, has discouraged the development of renewables in or on prime agricultural soil and wildlife habitat, on forestland, or in wetlands.
Millar noted that Vermont has plenty of land in its preferred locations to host the infrastructure needed to meet its renewable-energy targets. He also mentioned that New Jersey has mapped its “preferred” and “not preferred” locations for solar siting. New Jersey identified that 29 percent of its land is preferred for siting solar, dominated by existing residential and commercial areas. It also determined that 63 percent of its land is not preferred — i.e., forests, wetlands and agriculture.
New Jersey’s solar-siting program was built on consensus that utility-scale solar projects shouldn’t be permitted on open space; working farms should be allowed to install a small amount of solar to meet their energy needs; and where solar and wind is put matters more than generating green power.
New Jersey is currently ranked fifth in the United States with regards to total installed solar capacity.
Meg Kerr, senior director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, moderated the March 29 “A Smart Growth Approach to Renewable Energy Siting” discussion. She noted that Rhode Island needs to do a better job siting renewable-energy projects in the urban-built environment using smart-growth principles.
“We don’t have localized incentives right now to develop on developed lands,” Kerr said. “Communities feel unprepared, but we need to power society’s many energy needs without using fossil fuels.”
The panel discussion Kerr led featured Erika Niedowski, policy advocate for the Acadia Center; Paul Raducha, senior developer for Kearsarge Energy LP; and Grow Smart’s Millar.
“Keep in mind we have to deal with climate change. There’s an urgency to take climate action,” Niedowski said. “We can’t put renewable-energy development on hold as we figure this out. When it comes siting, we’re dealing with two green goals: renewable energy and environmental protections.”
She rejected the suggestion that some planners, such as Sweet, have made to place a moratorium on renewable-energy projects until municipalities and the state adopt updated ordinances and guidelines.
“We need to continue to green our energy supply,” Niedowski said. “So how do we accelerate the rate of renewables development while protecting natural resources?”
Rhode Island currently has 244 megawatts of renewable energy, in the form of onshore wind (104 megawatts), solar (64), landfill gas/anaerobic digestion (35), offshore wind (30) and hydropower (11).
Millar noted that 200 of those 244 megawatts of renewable energy were developed outside the state’s urban service boundary. Many of those 200 megawatts, especially the solar-produced ones, were sited on what was once woodland and farmland.
“We’re losing large forested areas to more fragmentation,” he said. “It’s critical that we protect this resource. Forests mitigate the impacts of climate change, efficiently storing and capturing carbon through photosynthesis.”
Rhode Island’s forestland, however, is more than just a carbon sink. The state’s 400,000 acres of forest, about 70 percent of which is privately owned, protect drinking-water supplies, reduce pollution, protect against flooding, moderate air temperatures, and provide wildlife habitat.
The late Alfred L. Hawkes, executive director of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island for 35 years, called the Ocean State’s forestland the state’s most valuable resource.
Forest products also contribute an estimated $710 million annually to the Rhode Island economy and support some 3,300 jobs.
Despite these many benefits, Christopher Modisette, state resource conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said, “Our forests are taken for granted and continue to disappear. As pressures continue to mount, how do we protect this incredible resource?”
Modisette moderated the “Rhode Island Forests: Our Invisible Green Giant” panel discussion that featured Bill Buffum, a research associate in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources Science, Tee Jay Boudreau, deputy chief for the Rhode Island Department of Management’s Division of Forest Environment, and Christopher Riely, coordinator of the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership.
“Forests and woodlands are a big part of the climate solution,” Riely said. “They’re carbon-eating machines.”
The state’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) is studying the controversial siting issue. An OER stakeholders group has been meeting monthly since last summer.
The Rhode Island Energy Resources Act, which addresses renewable-energy siting, has broad support, including from OER, DEM, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Conservation Law Foundation.
Courtesy of ecoRI News
Updated: Jun 6, 2019 at 2:35 PM
PAWTUCKET — A January count showed a drop in the number of homeless people in Rhode Island, but advocates say the survey doesn’t tell the full story.
“Progress is certainly being made, but ultimately the Point in Time Count alone is an imperfect way to capture the full scope of homelessness in Rhode Island,” Caitlin Frumerie, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, said in a press release.
Rhode Island’s annual Point in Time Count taken Jan. 23 and released Thursday showed that on any given night 1,055 Rhode Islanders are homeless, down from 1,101 in the 2018 count, according to a coalition press release.
However, the count also showed an increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people in Rhode Island. The 71 counted this year was up from 51 people counted in 2018, the coalition said.
The Point in Time Count is mandated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and figures in federal funding for states. It counts all individuals, sheltered and unsheltered, who are homeless on a given night in January.
To calculate the number of unsheltered homeless people, census takers have to go out, find and interview them. Frumerie thinks that group is undercounted.
“There’s a lot of nooks and crannies in the state, so it’s hard to have outreach everywhere,” Frumerie said in an interview. “How do you really know if you caught everybody?”
Frumerie also noted that there’s no way to count the number of homeless Rhode Islanders who are “couch-surfing” — staying with relatives or friends.
The coalition’s Annual Homeless & Housing Count suggests a higher number than the Point in Time Count. It reported that 3,342 Rhode Islanders, including 721 families, were homeless in 2018.
“The numbers certainly don’t lie on one critical thing: literally thousands of Rhode Islanders — including our elders, children, and veterans — continue to experience homelessness,” Frumerie said. “We hear from them the struggles they face: the near impossibility of finding housing thanks to rising costs, discrimination based on source of income that shuts out even affordable housing, difficulty connecting with resources, stigma for being homeless. That status quo is not acceptable.”
Progress has been made, according to Frumerie. The solution, she said, isn’t more shelters but more housing.
“We’ve been able to house more people,” she said. “The numbers are going down, but they’re not going down as quickly as we’d like.”
The coalition is pushing a pair of bills at the Rhode Island State House that would ban discrimination in housing based on source of income and sealing eviction court records when the verdict is found in favor of the tenant, according to Frumerie. The coalition also supports a bond in the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s budget that would provide 125 vouchers for permanent supportive housing.
More information on the count is available at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless’s website.
Posted: Jun 8, 2018 at 5:46 PM
How many times have you passed a street corner and witnessed a variation of this line: “I’m homeless and hungry; can you help?” As a result of pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union in 2016, cities across Rhode Island stopped arresting panhandlers, resulting in a proliferation of men and women throughout all parts of our state asking for financial help from passersby.
Panhandling evokes strong reactions in all of us. We may feel a combination of anger, guilt, shame, judgment and helplessness. We hear these themes: “How many people can I give a dollar to?” “Will this person buy alcohol or drugs?” “Why don’t they just get a job?”
To find a more positive solution to this social problem, Amos House launched “A Hand Up” in the fall of 2016. Our goal was to provide an alternative to panhandling that would offer a daily wage to men and women short on cash. Rather than cast judgment, we put people to work — literally picking up garbage and beautifying our neighborhoods.
With startup funds from an anonymous donor and the Rhode Island Foundation, we began with a crew of 15 people who donned yellow vests and gloves and hit the streets. Within two weeks we had more than 50 people on a waiting list.
Eighteen months into the program, we have put more than 400 men and women to work — half of them homeless and all of them unemployed. During this time we have helped close to 50 people secure part-time or full-time employment.
Our experience has been eye-opening. Most people, when given the opportunity, want to work. Our participants have taken great pride in seeing a street transformed. They are routinely cleaning and maintaining Huntington Avenue, Broad Street, Elmwood Avenue, and streets all throughout Olneyville. We have created partnerships with Southside Community Land Trust, One Neighborhood Builders, the Elmwood Merchant Association, and the Downtown Improvement District, to name a few.
With funding from Providence through Mayor Jorge Elorza, we are expanding our crews to offer these opportunities to even more people by creating a small business focused on landscaping and cleanup for property management agencies. Thanks to the jobs and investments from Peregrine Group and other property managers, we are employing graduates of the program — not just providing them with temporary day labor as an alternative to panhandling, but offering them steady employment that can change the direction of their lives.
Our goal for all of the men and women with whom we work is to connect them with supportive services that can help them access better opportunities. It isn’t the small cash amount that they receive for a day’s work that can change their lives, it is the connection to stable housing, addiction treatment, job training, or even items as simple as a replacement ID that sets them on a path for a better tomorrow.
We have had calls from neighbors across the city thanking us for keeping their streets clean. We answer questions about the “people in yellow vests” every day. Most importantly, we have restored dignity to a few men and women who have been given an opportunity to earn a few dollars.
Amos House is grateful to our city, community and business partners for their willingness to participate in this important version of an old-fashioned public works program. If only there were more opportunities like this for people down on their luck to earn a daily wage rather than hold a sign on a busy street corner.
Eileen Hayes is president and CEO of Amos House.
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