PROVIDENCE — The mayor and nonprofit stakeholders announced a citywide initiative to address homelessness and substance misuse for Providence’s most vulnerable residents on Wednesday, which will use $495,000 of the city’s American Rescue Plan dollars.
Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, members of the city council, the Rhode Island Foundation, the Providence Foundation, and Crossroads Rhode Island will collaborate on a new mobile diversion program for Providence residents experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Through the new program, Crossroads will assist individuals living in places not meant for human habitation to either regain permanent housing or enter a shelter or transitional housing program.
Assistance will range from financial support for costs related to securing housing to referrals for mental and behavioral health supports.
“This investment is just the beginning of allocating our Providence Rescue Plan dollars to supporting the crucial work of partners like Crossroads Rhode Island, who are dedicated to serving our unsheltered neighbors,” said Elorza on Wednesday at the Rhode Island Foundation’s offices. “Our most vulnerable neighbors have been hit the hardest... and the issue of homelessness is not unique to Providence.”
He said the rise of homelessness is just “one piece” of the housing crisis in Rhode Island.
The city allocated a portion of ARPA funds in July to prioritize investments for homelessness interventions. The funding was finalized by a City Council ordinance and was signed into law by Elorza.
Since the start of the pandemic, Providence has invested $5.5 million to address homelessness in the city, said Elorza.
“The City has emergency housing services dollars we need to put to use now,” said Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, who represents Ward 11 of Providence. “Winter is coming and people are experiencing homelessness need critical services as soon as possible.”
She added, “There’s a time when you need to do what’s right. That time is now.”
With the increased investment, Crossroads and its community partners will be able to expand diversion and intervention programs for individuals and families, said Karen Santilli, president and CEO of Crossroads.
“This critical funding will allow us to provide homeless services directly to those who are sleeping outside. Armed with a laptop and a hot spot, our Mobile Diversion case managers will go out into our community and connect people with the services they need to end their homelessness, such as housing problem-solving and one-time financial support,” said Santilli.
She said this grant will allow Crossroads to hire two new case managers.
The Rhode Island Foundation, the Downtown Improvement District, and the Providence Foundation also announced the creation of the Healthy and Safe Providence Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation. The Rhode Island Foundation pledged a gift of $100,000 if corporate, institutional, and private donors commit $200,000 to it by Dec. 31.
The fund will support evidence-informed outreach work, which will aim to provide behavioral health, basic needs, and housing placement services to individuals in need in the downtown area. The fund will also expand the Downtown Improvement District’s Clean and Safe Team to work collaboratively with outreach workers and local businesses.
Grantees of the fund will be selected by the Foundation and will partner with Crossroads’ mobile diversion program so services and supports are complementary.
Neil D. Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, encouraged contributions to the fund, particularly from “all downtown business leaders.”
“A gift to this effort will make clear that you recognize the impact substance abuse disorders, untreated mental illness, and resulting homelessness have on individuals, and the community as a whole,” said Steinberg, who said permanent solutions are necessary, and need to be implemented immediately.
Steinberg said that many of the “big wigs” in Rhode Island, including Governor Dan McKee, were at a “ribbon cutting” on Tuesday at a the Aloft Hotel. He said he “challenged” those leaders to walk through the city and see all the unhoused people in Providence.
“We need to challenge and inspire the business community downtown. I hear too often ‘we need to get rid of those people.’ But there’s a person who lost their job. There’s a person who is struggling with substance abuse. There’s a person who can’t get by,” said Steinberg.