55 unhoused Rhode Islanders have been relocated from the Cranston Street Armory in Providence to the Motel 6 in Warwick. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
When the Rhode Island Department of Housing announced plans to close the Cranston Street Armory about two weeks ago, direct-service providers scrambled to find shelter space for around 100 people then sleeping at the site.
The number dipped to somewhat less than 100 by the time the Armory closed Monday at 7 a.m. But officials anticipated that with homelessness increasing by 56% in Rhode Island over the last 18 months, the need would be greater.
So accommodations for about 150 people were planned throughout Rhode Island in anticipation of the Armory’s closure Monday, said a spokesman for the Housing Department.
But there were some logistical issues, said Margaux Morisseau, deputy director of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness.
“The shelters weren’t all ready to open,” Morisseau said. “That means some people just left and efforts to reach them are ongoing as we speak.”
Despite this, Morisseau said the majority of those who left the Armory Monday morning were sheltered by evening.
“It was a herculean task,” she said. “We made a record number of referrals over the past number of days to make sure we were keeping up with the placements.”
The largest of the sites, located at a Jefferson Boulevard Motel 6 in Warwick — with accommodation for 55 people — was open by then, according to Nick Horton, co-executive of OpenDoors RI, which runs the program there.
He said 45 were referred to the site by the coordinated entry system — a referral system run by the coalition to find shelter for those facing homelessness with various service providers — though not all arrived by the end of the day.
“It went relatively smoothly given the difficulty of the task to move that many people,” Horton said.
“All the referrals came from Cranston Street because that was what we needed to focus on on day one, and the rest of the beds will be filled through the coordinated entry system.”
It was a herculean task. We made a record number of referrals over the past number of days to make sure we were keeping up with the placements.
– Margaux Morisseau, deputy director of the Rhode Island Coalition to end Homelessness
The motel became a topic of conversation when Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi announced plans to shelter people there in a Facebook post on May 10. He voiced concerns about increased use of city services and the strain it may put on finances and personnel.
Warwick Police said they were called to the motel 336 times since September 1, 2022, around the time 40 other unhoused Rhode Islanders were placed there.
Records show the motel is owned by JSK Providence, LLC, whose owner, Jayesh B. Patel, is based in Maryland. Neither Patel nor the local contact, Bimal Parekh, was available when contacted for comment.
Gov. Dan McKee said he was in talks with the City of Warwick and other municipalities where shelters are located to discuss reimbursement.
“[Picozzi] was very cooperative and we’re working our way through to make sure that it works well just as we did the Armory,” McKee said Tuesday morning after he gave welcome remarks for The Ocean Race Summit at Fort Adams State Park in Newport. “We know there’s a need, and that’s being addressed.”
The governor said part of those efforts included a $978,755 line item in a proposed amendment to his fiscal year 2024 budget allocated to support outreach programs, day programs, ambulance response, and other services for unhoused Rhode Islanders.
Joseph Lindstrom, spokesman for the Department of Housing, said accommodations were also prepared by shelter programs based in Providence and Woonsocket.
“Crossroads has put up 10 beds in our community room to accommodate clients who were previously staying at the Armory,” Crossroads Rhode Island spokeswoman Elisabeth Wales said in an email. “We had 8 clients referred yesterday and stayed overnight.”
At Emmanuel House, a Providence men’s shelter run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence — where 20 beds were recently added — all went smoothly, said a diocesan spokesman.
“Everything has gone smoothly from our perspective,” Diocese spokesman Michael Kieloch said in an email. “Anyone seeking shelter received it, and I expect that as we move on anyone seeking shelter will receive it.”
The Community Care Alliance, a Woonsocket-based organization, said it was still preparing 40 spaces across three hotels in North Smithfield and Woonsocket, though some were already filled.
“As we are in the implementation stage, the logistics around referrals include communication challenges as unhoused individuals do not always have reliable phone capacity, transportation to shelter facilities can also be problematic,” Benedict Lessing, the organization’s president and CEO, said in an email.
“We expect within a few days to be at capacity.”
In addition, Lindstrom said the state would provide funding for some seasonal shelters — opened to accommodate traditionally greater demand in the winter — to function into the summer due to increased demand.
The four seasonal shelters allowed to extend their operations include:
- OpenDoors RI’s warming shelter in Pawtucket
- Catholic Charities at Emmanuel House
- Community Care Alliance’s Hotel Program in Smithfield
- The Crossroads Rhode Island couple’s shelter on Hartford Avenue in Providence
- The WARM Center in Westerly
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