News & Event
By Christine Dunn
Journal Staff Writer
Saturday, December 02, 2017
PROVIDENCE – Foreclosed and abandoned properties that had become magnets for criminal activity in Olneyville were targeted for inclusion in Amherst Gardens, ONE Neighborhood Builders’ newest development.
ONB purchased 13 distressed properties for Amherst Gardens, and they were “strategically selected” for their nuisance effect, high visibility, proximity to existing ONB properties, and the positive impact their improvement would have on surrounding homes, according to Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins. Eight buildings had to be demolished and replaced with new homes; the others were renovated.
The result of the $10.4-million development is 36 new affordable apartments and 2 new commercial spaces in the Amherst Street neighborhood.
Hawkins joked that her predecessors, including former executive directors Frank Shea and Michael DeVos, “were really good at buying crummy properties.”
City officials at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony included Mayor Jorge Elorza, Policy Chief Col. Hugh T. Clements Jr. and Police Cmdr. Thomas Verdi, and acting City Council President Sabina Matos and City Councilman Michael Correia, who represent the Olneyville neighborhood.
Housing leaders including Nancy Smith Greer from HUD, Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, Michael Tondra from the state’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Brenda Clement from HousingWorks RI and Melina Lodge from the Housing Network were also in attendance.
“Welcome to Ward 15,” Matos said at the Friday morning event, held in the first-floor commercial space at 234 Manton Ave., one of the reclaimed properties. Affordable apartments have been built above the street-level storefront.
Matos said it’s been exciting to see revitalization in Olneyville, after “we have been through so many challenges.” Olneyville was disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis. Housing prices escalated rapidly during the housing boom, then crashed after 2008.
Elorza said that today, leaders of the city’s universities and hospitals are interested in investing in Olneyville.
“Before, people didn’t want to come to Olneyville,” Matos said. But “there are a lot of decent people who live in Olneyville and they all want a chance to live a decent life.”
“I ‘heart’ Olneyville,” said Jeanne Cola of LISC Rhode Island, a project partner. “It has a unique sense of belonging and place. It truly is on the rise.”
Fields also lauded the efforts to bring safe streets and good schools” to Olneyville, but added that she is “very worried” about the tax reform effort in Washington.
The possible elimination of tax credits that support public-private affordable housing investments could undermine the work of housing advocates, she said.
On Twitter: @ChristineMDunn
Courtesy of Providence Journal
By Christine Dunn, Journal Staff Writer
Posted Nov 30, 2017 at 12:10PM, Updated Nov 30, 2017 at 12:26PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A playground for an elementary school in South Providence, downtown revitalization in Woonsocket, and a new continuing-education center in Central Falls were among the projects that won support in the first round of awards from the $10-million urban revitalization/blight relief fund approved by state voters in 2016 as part of the $50-million affordable housing bond.
The Rhode Island Housing Board of Commissioners on Thursday morning approved close to $3.8 million in awards to six different projects. The next round of awards is planned for March 2018. Known formally as the Acquisition and Revitalization Program, its aim is to stabilize neighborhoods by targeting foreclosed or blighted residential and commercial properties and vacant lots in need of redevelopment.
Although ARP financing is available statewide, 75 percent of the funding has been set aside for urban communities.
A request for proposals went out in July, and 18 proposals requesting $10.9 million were received. Nine of the proposals failed to meet requirements. The awards approved by the board Thursday are:
—- $1 million for the Dexter Adult Learning and Workforce Development Hub in Central Falls, in a vacant building at 934 Dexter St., formerly the Dexter Credit Union building. The hub is being developed by the City of Central Falls and Rhode Island College. The project, with an estimated cost of $5.8 million, is also being supported by state and federal historic tax credits, and EPA brownfields money.
— $975,000 for the Millrace District Creative Placemaking Initiative in downtown Woonsocket. Three vacant mills at 15 Island Place and 69 South Main St. are being redeveloped as housing and commercial space by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, a nonprofit community development agency. There will be 58 live-work units and 6 commercial units. Rhode Island Housing said this award is for the commercial part of the project only.
— $612,484 for the Bailey Baxter Playspace Project. Working with the Nature Conservancy, the City of Providence will create a playground for the Bailey Elementary School at 65 Gordon Ave. and improve adjacent Baxter Park by redeveloping two vacant and blighted properties with lots at 56, 57, 58, 61, 62 and 66 Baxter Street. The total cost is $890,385, and the effort is also being financed by the City of Providence and Community Development Block Grant funds.
— $906,369 for Georgiaville Village Green, Smithfield’s first affordable housing development for families, at the intersection of Higgins Street and Whipple Avenue. There will be 42 apartments built for households earning less than 60 percent of area median income. It is an $11-million development by Coventry Housing Associates Corp. and Gemini Housing Corp.
— $146,727 for SWAP Inc. for 136 Rugby St., Providence.; and
— $153,528 for SWAP Inc. for 44 Lillian Ave., Providence. SWAP (Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties) will develop two-family homes on two vacant lots. Each house will include a three-bedroom homeownership apartment and a two-bedroom rental unit.
On Twitter: @ChristineMDunn
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
2200 Southwood Drive, Nashua, NH
We invite you to be a part of the second New England Lead Conference taking place on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Nashua, NH. Hosted by the New England Lead Coordinating Committee, the conference will include a variety of educational sessions focusing on lead prevention, policy, model programs, outreach, the EPA’s Renovation, Remodeling and Repair Rule (RRP), lead abatement, compliance, and the economics of lead poisoning.
Read more >
October 4, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
The Narragansett Times: Dziobek steps down as Welcome House director
By KENDRA GRAVELLE Sep 29, 2017
SOUTH KINGSTOWN—When Joseph Dziobek accepted the position of executive director of Welcome House of South County nearly three years ago, he had expected the job would make for a simple transition into retirement.
But what was intended as a part-time gig turned into much more than that for Dziobek, who this week left his post.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Dziobek, whose last day on the job was Monday. “And it’s been very satisfying—I feel very close to the people who have been a part of it.”
Dziobek, 66, took the job at Welcome House after retiring from his career as CEO of Fellowship Health Resources. He said he intended only to stay for two or three years.
October 4, 2017 in Local Interest
Final Days to Register: 2017 Housing Fact Book Release
Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Luncheon: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence RI
October 3, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
Rhode Island College: The Defamation Experience
Monday, October 30, 2017
5:00PM - Doors Open
6:00PM - Performance
SPONSORED BY: THE DIVISION OF COMMUNITY EQUITY AND DIVERSITY AND THE DIVISION OF STUDENT SUCCESS
THE PLAY * THE DELIBERATION * THE DISCUSSION
September 27, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
NLIHC: Sign Letters to Support Equitable Housing Recovery after Devastating Hurricanes
Help ensure that low income people and neighborhoods are treated fairly after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. A broad coalition of national, state, and local organizations is calling on Congress, FEMA, and HUD to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest incomes who are often the hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards.
September 27, 2017 in Local Interest, National News
Roger Williams University: Social Justice Month Events
Thursday, Oct 19
Mary Tefft White Center
How Housing Works
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Sponsored by Housing Works RI and RWU Chief Diversity Officer
Keywords: socioeconomic status, race, jobs, housing, equity
Workshop with Brenda Clement, Director of Housing Works Rhode Island and Ame Lambert, RWU Chief Diversity Officer.
An overview of housing issues in Rhode Island and connections to the larger social justice agenda.
September 25, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: People on the move for the week of Sept. 17
Posted Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Updated Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Rhode Island LISC
Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corportation has welcomed two new employees. Jeremiah O’Grady, of Lincoln, joined LISC as program officer after spending more than 12 years at ONE Neighborhood Builders as real estate project manager and director of asset management and operations.
Liz Klinkenberg, of Warwick, was hired as communications director. She brings more than 15 years of public relations experience to her new position, including work for The Miami Herald and The Providence Journal.
The Providence American: Reed Announces $300k in Community Development Grants for NeighborWorks Affiliates
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to promote healthy, vibrant neighborhoods across Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced an additional $300,000 in federal funding for three Rhode Island-based affiliates of NeighborWorks America (NeighborWorks). These federal funds will help NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation to provide affordable housing opportunities, generate job growth, and enhance economic stability for working families. Earlier this year, Senator Reed also helped to secure over $750,000 in federal funding for NeighborWorks affiliates in Rhode Island, bringing total NeighborWorks investment in the state to above $1 million for fiscal year 2017.
September 21, 2017 in Federal News, Local Interest
The Providence American: Providence Unveils PVD Gives Donation Station
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined members of the City Council, public safety officials, and community leaders who have been named to the PVD Gives commission for the unveiling of the City’s first Donation Station at Kennedy Plaza. The retrofitted parking meter is one of ten stations that will be installed across the city to collect funds that will support local organizations that provide housing and services to those in need.
“PVD Gives and the new Donation Stations make it easier to give back,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “Our collective generosity can make all the difference in the lives of those striving to get back on their feet. I encourage visitors and residents to chip in and be part of the solution.”
September 21, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: Report: New England losing 65 acres of forestland per day
By Steve LeBlanc / Associated Press
Posted Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
Updated Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
BOSTON — New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day — a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University.
The study found public funding for land conservation in New England dropped by half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels.
Posted:Feb 9, 2018 at 7:40 PM
Updated:Feb 9, 2018 at 8:01 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Clark Schoettle, who has worked on neighborhood revitalization in Providence for nearly 35 years, will retire in June as executive director of the Providence Revolving Fund, the organization announced this week.
“It is impossible to overstate the impact that Clark has had on the City of Providence’s historic buildings and neighborhoods,” said architect Christine West, president of the Revolving Fund’s board. “The singular beauty of Providence comes from its rich historic character, and it would be difficult to identify a renewed historic building in our city that Clark has not had a direct influence upon through either the Providence Revolving Fund or his numerous civic and volunteer roles.”
Schoettle has led the Providence Revolving Fund since 1983, “transforming the organization from a small historic preservation loan fund to a $12-million community development fund,” the group added.
Since the 1980s, the Revolving Fund has invested more than $14 million in the West Broadway and Elmwood neighborhoods by buying and redeveloping 63 abandoned houses for affordable homeownership, and by making 470 loans to property owners to restore homes.
In 2003, Schoettle negotiated a $7.8-million investment with the Rhode Island Foundation to establish a dedicated loan fund for Downtown Providence, PRF noted. Since then, “the Downcity Fund has invested over $16 million to redevelop 24 underutilized buildings, leveraging $155 million in additional financing and stimulating the revitalization of downtown.”
Under Schoettle’s leadership, the Revolving Fund has also “consulted on 140 historic and low-income housing tax credit projects totaling over $350 million in re-investment in historic buildings in Rhode Island.”
Schoettle’s efforts were seen in “the financing and renovation of 22 of the historic houses surrounding the Dexter Training Ground; the redevelopment of a failed HUD project on Adelaide Avenue which resulted in the restoration of 11 properties for affordable homeownership; the development of 39 artist residences at Monohasset Mill; the financing and development of 12 buildings which revitalized Luongo Square; and renovation of several buildings on Westminster Street by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, including their headquarters in an old gas station,” according to PRF.
“Restored buildings in downtown Providence funded by the PRF include AS220′s Empire Street and Mercantile Block, the Peerless Lofts, Saki’s Pizza on Weybosset, the Providence G, and the Dean Hotel,” while more recent efforts include “the redevelopment of the Almy Street School on the west side of Providence; the current restoration underway of the Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House, aka the ‘Wedding Cake House’ on Broadway; and the Case-Meade, Union Trust, and Woolworth Buildings on Dorrance.”
Schoettle plans to continue serving on the Providence Historic District Commission and the Downtown Design Review Committee.
“The Revolving Fund has been very much a part of me for more than half of my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else that could be so gratifying and important,” he said. “It has given me the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people to try different approaches and accomplish the historic preservation of difficult buildings to revitalize neighborhoods.”
The search for a new executive director is under way, and a celebratory tribute to Schoettle is planned for later this year.
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Posted Oct 11, 2017 at 12:01 AM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For families with household incomes below $50,000, the improving housing market in 2016 meant rising prices, and fewer homes and apartments they can afford to rent or buy, according to a new report from HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.
The report found that in 2016, only two communities, Central Falls and Providence (not counting the East Side) offered “homes for sale that fit a household budget of under $50,000.”
For renters, there was no municipality in the state where the average cost of a two-bedroom rental apartment was affordable on a household income of $30,934, the median income for Rhode Island renters.
Even for renters earning less than $50,000, there were just six communities where the average rent price was “affordable:” Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence (without the East Side) and Woonsocket.
Housing is deemed “affordable” if housing costs consume no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income.
“Simply put, Rhode Island needs more housing,” said Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing. “The real estate market is booming right now, and that means housing prices are rising — which puts pressure on families who are already struggling to get by. The good news is that we have already begun taking steps to increase production, and the $50 million housing bond that passed last year is a start.”
As the “affordability gap” grew, there was also a jump in the number of foreclosures last year. There were 1,561 foreclosure deeds issued in the Ocean State in 2016, an increase of 32 percent compared with 2015, according to the 2017 Housing Fact Book.
In addition, “Rhode Island’s rate of seriously delinquent loans is still among the highest in the United States, ranking ninth in the fourth quarter of 2016,” the report added.
The Fact Book, an annual report from HousingWorks RI, tracks affordability and other housing issues across the state. It was scheduled for release Wednesday at HousingWorks’ annual luncheon, which this year includes a morning panel discussion “offering an in-depth look at the numbers.” HousingWorks RI is a nonprofit research group that became part of Roger Williams University in 2014.
The Fact Book also tracked an increase in 2016 in building permits, which rose by 23 percent to 1,226 permits. But this level is still far below projected needs.
“As noted in the Projecting Future Housing Needs Report (2016), commissioned by Rhode Island Housing, over the next 10 years there is an anticipated need for more than 34,000 new homes,” the Fact Book added, and “demand is for more than 27,000 of those to be multifamily and able to serve households with incomes less than 80 percent of area median income ($40,400 to $68,000 for households of one to four across the state).”
But many communities still have far to go in reaching the state-mandated goal of having 10 percent of their housing stock be long-term, deed-restricted affordable housing, the report added. Just five communities have met the goal: Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham, Providence and Woonsocket.
Communities with less than 3 percent include: Barrington (2.66), Charlestown (2.86), Exeter (2.36), Foster (2.05), Glocester (2.23), Little Compton (0.56 percent), Portsmouth (2.83), Richmond (1.89), Scituate (0.85), and West Greenwich (1.41). However, statewide, the average is up to 8.29 percent.
Rhode Island continues to have an exceptionally low homeownership rate, particularly for communities of color.
“At 60 percent, Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homeownership among the six New England states, and ranks 46th nationally,” the report added. “Across race and ethnicity, homeownership rates in Rhode Island show great disparity. White residents have a homeownership rate of 65 percent, while Latino, Black and Asian household rates are 28 percent, 31 percent and 50 percent, respectively.”
R.I. housing costs, 2016
Median house price: $239,900
Income needed to afford this: $68,065
Average two-bedroom rent: $1,288
Income needed to afford this: $51,520
SOURCE: 2017 HOUSING FACT BOOK
PROVIDENCE – The latest national magazine to sing the praises of Providence was Vogue, in its March 15 edition, in an article entitled, “Why Providence Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway” when looking for great food, music and art.
The story by writer Julia Sherman began with an evocative opening sentence: “For now, I bounce from coast to coast, but I plan to die in Providence.”
Sherman continued: “I was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design more than a decade ago, and the magic of that jewel-box of a city still pulls on my heartstrings. It’s the Victorian homes, industrial buildings, the charmingly gruff New England personalities, and concentration of Italian-American markets that have kept me coming back.”
In Sherman’s view, “The town is divided by the Providence River, separating the posh, College Hill area to its east, and the grittier, fast-developing downtown, Olneyville, Federal Hill, and Atwells to the west. Most tourists will cling to the picturesque, colonial Benefit Street, with its gas lamps and pristine mansions, but that’s only a tiny sliver of what the city has to offer. This place has chutzpah. It’s the blue-collar dive bar and the Ivy League, it’s Mayflower meets crust punk.”
Left out of Sherman’s travelogue was the West End of Providence, where tourists can encounter what many residents call the cultural mecca of diversity in Providence, with Cranston Street serving as a kind of international boulevard.
Angela B. Ankoma, executive vice president and director of Community Investment at United Way of Rhode Island and a long-time resident of the West End community of Providence, hopes that one day the West End and Cranston Street will become “a destination and not a thoroughfare.”
Ankoma, who grew up in the West End, a child of African immigrants, and who is now raising her family there, thought it was a great idea that travelers should come to Providence and see the city as a destination place those who hunger for a terrific cultural experience.
“I agree,” Ankoma said emphatically, during a recent impromptu tour of the West End neighborhood with ConvergenceRI. “They should.”
The West End of Providence, Ankoma continued, can be seen as the cultural mecca of Providence’s diverse communities. “I want the West End to be one of those places that you have to go there to experience what it is like to be among the various cultures of the world who call Providence home. I want it to be a destination, not a pass through.”
But, Ankoma added: “Let’s just make sure that people who live in Providence can stay in Providence. That’s my concern. I want to be able to stay here. I want to be able to grow old here. You should be able to [do so]. There should be thoughtful, intentional actions to ensure all of us can enjoy living here.”
What makes up an “engaged” community?
The idea of an impromptu tour grew out of a series of ongoing conversations that ConvergenceRI has had with Ankoma and others over the last year, attempting to answer what was the meaning of neighborhood and community in the digital world of the 21st century we live in.
How was a neighborhood identified and recognized? Was it by geographical or cultural boundaries? Was it where you lived? Where your family had lived? More importantly, how did residents see themselves as belonging as members of an engaged community, during a time when boundaries were becoming more fluid, where shopping was more often done online, and when social media was often the predominant source of connection?
Those questions have taken on a sense of urgency as Providence continues to attract new companies, new enterprises and the new talent to fill the job opportunities, and with it, the increased pressures of real estate development that puts stress on existing residents not to be displaced by higher rents caused by gentrification and, with it, the growing lack of affordable housing.
One response to define “engagement” has been the TogetherRI initiative by The Rhode Island Foundation, which launches this week, an attempt by the community foundation to address what Neil Steinberg, the president and CEO, called the increasing feeling of not being heard by Rhode Islanders.
A different kind of conversation will take place on Saturday, April 28, at the Neighborhood Housing Summit, to be held at the Southside Cultural Center on Broad Street, to talk with residents of the communities of South Providence and the West End to “prepare your community for the future through vision setting, housing education and dialogue.”
A third approach to redefining the West End community is the more tangible construction of Urban Greens, with its poured concrete and steel in the ground, the first full-service large grocery store in the neighborhood.
As Ankoma described the importance of Urban Greens, “It’s good to have a diversity of choices – a corner store if you want.” But, before the expansion of Urban Greens, “There were no large full-service markets in the neighborhood.”
Ankoma continued: ‘You can become an investor; you can be a member. You can go there to shop, maybe have a meeting, or have some coffee. I think it is time for us to have that option in the West End neighborhood.”
Another important approach to redefining community is the work being done by the West Elmwood Community Development Corporation and its Sankofa Initiative, which has built affordable housing and connected it with urban growing spaces, including a hoop greenhouse, and a new commercial kitchen, to complement its Sankofa summertime marketplace.
Defining boundaries in the West End
The impromptu tour of the West End began on Bucklin Street at the West End Community Center and the West End Recreation Center, adjacent to Bucklin Park, which Ankoma called “the Central Park of the West End, because it is the center of everything.”
On a cold Saturday morning in mid-March, there was a steady stream of children and parents entering and leaving the recreation center.
Originally, the park had once been a spring-fed pond, surrounded by farmland, and the location of the Bucklin Ice Company, according to Ankoma.
The name of Bucklin came from James Bucklin, a Providence architect who was the designer of The Arcade in downtown Providence.
At some point, the pond was filled in as the neighborhood changed and became the home of manufacturing and jewelry factories.
Today, the community center, which is separate from the recreation center, has lots of different social services, including a food pantry, a before and after school care program for kids, and a daycare program. The recreation center includes an outdoor pool; the park is home to a host of programs and leagues, including the West Elmwood Intruders football team, and adult baseball and softball leagues.
Given the heavy use of Bucklin Park, the Mayor’s Office has held community meetings about plans to invest in improvements, according to Ankoma.
“From what I understand, this summer there is going to be a substantial investment in an upgrading of [Bucklin Park] and amenities at the park, which will be good,” she said.
In 2016, 300 volunteers and MetLife built a new playground in a day, adjacent to the recreation center, according to Ankoma.
Also in 2016, a group called Friends of Bucklin Park organized residents to work with the city and plant trees and create a butterfly garden, to be more thoughtful about park stewardship, according to Ankoma.
Evolution of a changing neighborhood
The neighborhood of the West End is still largely defined by its former life as the home to numerous factories and manufacturers, which provided steady jobs, and with that, two- and three-family homes that served as affordable residences for workers, attracting each new wave of immigrants to the city for decades.
Today, many of the brick factory buildings are abandoned; others are being repurposed as commercial development; still others have been housing sites.
Ankoma pointed out the abandoned factory where her uncle used to work as well as the former factories that had been recently sold for commercial development to create an indoor shopping space. A third former factory building on Burwell Street is being repurposed as mixed used, including housing, a kind of speakeasy, and a food incubator, according to Ankoma.
“I heard that there is a new ice cream company, The Fountain, that plans to be located there,” ConvergenceRI said.
“An ice cream company? That’s cool,” Ankoma said, and laughed.
Turning onto the congested Cranston Street, crowded with pedestrians and shoppers on a Saturday morning, entering and exiting a multitude of stores, Ankoma talked about the fact that the West End was one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods.
“We should celebrate that,” she said.
What’s the best way to celebrate that diversity? ConvergenceRI asked.
“By honoring each culture,” Ankoma responded. “I always think that here we are on Cranston Street, and maybe we should have flags representing all of the different cultures of the neighborhood on display.”
Ankoma continued: “That’s what makes this community great; that’s what makes America great,” and burst out in a peal of laughter, realizing that she invoked President Donald Trump’s trademark phrase, but with a different intent.
How would you designate Cranston Street? ConvergenceRI asked
Ankoma answered: “By [acknowledging] that Cranston Street is an international boulevard, and display flags and murals of all the cultures represented in the community.’
If we were to do cultural celebrations, she said, “We could do it on this street.”
Cranston Street, Ankoma continued, is a corridor – it is the corridor into Providence if you are coming from Cranston. “This is the gateway.”
Courtesy of ConvergenceRI
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at 10:26 PM
Updated Jan 5, 2018 at 10:26 PM
On Friday nights Megan Smith walks through downtown Providence looking for people who may be struggling with homelessness, addiction, poverty — or some combination of the three — to connect with.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Inside the bus station in Kennedy Plaza, Megan Smith held a grocery bag stuffed with gloves and hats. In her pocket, a stack of bus tickets and Narcan.
“The essentials of life,” she mused. “Or of some life.”
Smith works as a project manager at House of Hope, a Warwick-based outreach center for the homeless. On Friday nights, she walks through downtown Providence looking for people who may be struggling with homelessness, addiction, poverty — or some combination of the three — to connect with.
“The root of it is nonjudgmental listening, bearing witness and from that trying to tackle things at the micro and macro level,” Smith said, snow crunching beneath her boots.
But this Friday was different. With 20-mph winds barreling down Broad Street, she braced against the icy temperatures in an attempt to persuade people to go inside. Or at least accept a pair of ski gloves.
“This is the kind of night where if someone doesn’t have a safe place to be, everything else is moot,” she said. “Because they might not get a tomorrow. It’s that cold out here.”
She plodded down Broad Street with interns Sara Melucci and Andy O’Dell, checking stairways and around corners for people. It seemed the extreme cold, 12 below zero with the windchill, had driven most indoors. But not all.
Robert Souza stood in a thin coat outside the 7-Eleven on Dorrance Street, his arms wrapped around himself.
“Could any of you spare change for a bus ticket,” he asked. Smith launched into action. She procured a pair of gloves and helped Souza put them on his hands. And then handed him a bus pass, so he could get back to Riverside, where he had a place to stay.
“Oh sweetness,” he said as he slipped on the gloves. “Oh thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”
With a quick smile, Smith continued to the bus station. Inside the terminal was a swirl of chaos. Some people were trying to catch buses, some buying time in the heated station.
Mark Rossignol fell into the latter category. From her years as a caseworker, Smith recognizes nearly every straggler left in the terminal or on the street outside. But Rossignol was a new face. She sensed he needed help because of the giant backpack parked next to him.
“Good evening, sir,” she said as she approached and introduced herself. Rossignol smiled wide when presented with gloves.
“Thank you so much,” he said, while having difficulty moving his frozen hands. “It’s so painful, the cold. I can’t thank you enough.”
Rossignol shared his story — he was born in Massachusetts, and lived in Rhode Island as a child when his father, who was in the Navy, was stationed in Newport. Forty years ago, the family moved to Florida.
After a separation from his wife a few weeks ago, Rossignol said he decided to “come home.” He was met with the coldest weather he’s ever experienced.
Hesitant to go to Crossroads Rhode Island, he was waiting for a break in the weather that likely won’t reach Rhode Island until Monday. Nights at a shelter can be loud and scary, Rossignol explained. He has schizophrenia and deals with bouts of paranoia, making the shelter environment even more of a challenge, he said.
Before he even finished his tale, Smith was making phone calls. Providence Rescue Mission usually doesn’t allow people after a certain hour, but she got Rossignol in.
Elated, he bundled back up and headed to the bus stop.
Smith and the interns walked back up to Cathedral Square toward Crossroads, continuing to check each corner.
“Please don’t try to stay outside,” Smith begged anyone passing by. “Please.”
On Twitter: @jacktemp
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