Burrillville leaders question state plan for unhoused families

By: - May 3, 2023 2:46 pm
One of the "cottages" the state hopes to repurpose into a temporary shelter for unhoused families. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

One of the “cottages” on the campus of the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital the state hopes to repurpose into a temporary shelter for unhoused families. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

Burrillville officials are expressing concerns with the state’s plan to establish a temporary shelter for unhoused families on the campus of the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital.

Amid pressure to find emergency housing as the Cranston Street Armory in Providence closes this month, the Department of Housing hopes to move up to 30 people from 10 families into three dormitory buildings on the campus of the state’s psychiatric hospital. 

Could three empty dormitories in Burrillville help solve the state’s emergency housing crisis?

The buildings, which state officials said are in need of minor renovations, do not contain kitchens.

Don Fox, president of the Burrillville Town Council, said that while he understands the need to help families experiencing a housing crisis, sending them to the state’s northwest corner where there are fewer community services available may not be appropriate.

“You need a car just to get to the closest grocery store, which is about five miles away,” he said.

Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor said Tuesday that some homeless families may have cars they can use to get around town and that Tri-County Community Action Agency, the nonprofit the Housing Department seeks to work with, is looking at purchasing a van.

Fox said he also wonders where kids will go to school, adding that the Burrillville school department is expected to face an $800,000 budget shortfall soon.

“We’re talking about a much higher cost to education and we’re already suffering from funding,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz, who represents Burrillville, also expressed reservations over the state’s proposal.

“My colleagues and I care very much about how our state deals with the homelessness issue, but with so little information currently available, I’m just not sure if this is a viable solution,” de la Cruz said.

Fox said the town is requesting a public forum with state officials, though nothing has been scheduled yet.

A spokesperson for the Housing Department did not confirm any requests from the town, but said the state is currently in discussions with the town’s government as the process moves forward.

“We are grateful for these discussions and look forward to answering more questions in the course of this process,” he said.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.