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R.I. National Guard members to staff Cranston Street Armory as 24/7 warming center

Workers from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency unloaded tables, chairs, KN95 masks, hand disinfectant and equipment at the Cranston Street Armory on Dec. 9.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee has authorized members of the Rhode Island National Guard to temporarily assist with the opening and operation of the proposed around-the-clock Cranston Street Armory warming station that was supposed to open last week for homeless individuals.

The warming station will open on Friday, according to a news release on Wednesday. It’s unclear what time homeless Rhode Islanders will be allowed inside the armory. McKee spokeswoman Andrea Palagi told the Globe Wednesday that specific timing is “being finalized.”

In a letter to Major General Christopher Callahan on Monday, the governor authorized up to 50 members of the Rhode Island National Guard for the armory. He said the National Guard will work in partnership with other stage agencies and has the “experience and capabilities necessary to provide support for this effort.”

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Teams from state agencies such as the Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Housing, and the Department of Administration have been “working diligently to get the facilities up and running,” the governor’s office wrote in the news release.

On Dec. 8, cots, blankets, water, and portable bathroom facilities began being delivered.

The view inside the Cranston Street Armory.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Plans to open the Cranston Street Armory as a warming station were announced Nov. 30, but the state Department of Housing and Community Development, led by Secretary Josh Saal, has faced significant hurdles. The department sent a letter of intent to nearly 30 organizations on Nov. 30, soliciting proposals for operating the warming center. But none had responded by the initial deadline of Dec. 7 or the extended deadline of Dec. 8.

Providers were given an additional week, with a new deadline of Thursday at 1 p.m., to send proposals to the state. Chris Raia, a spokesman for Saal, did not immediately respond to the Globe’s questions about whether a provider has sent in an official proposal.

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Palagi did not say in an email whether any providers had responded to the letter of intent as of Wednesday afternoon. But McKee said Wednesday “we expect to have a qualified vendor there on Friday.”

“The deadline for providers to respond to the LOI is tomorrow — we expect to have an update after that,” she wrote to the Globe.

A row of hand sanitizers stand on the floor inside the Cranston Street Armory on Dec. 9.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

But many of the providers, which are mostly smaller nonprofits, expressed frustrations over the process to the Globe last week, saying there were plenty of limitations and complications to the proposal and the use of the armory.

The winning organizations would be awarded a maximum of $2 million from the state’s $1.13 billion in American Rescue Act Funds. But recipients would be on the hook for “all costs associated with operating the warming center,” including staffing, insurance, purchasing and leasing equipment and furniture, utilities, technology such as charging stations and WiFi, food for three meals a day for up to 50 individuals, transportation to the warming center, security, installing portable toilets and showers, and other items. And they cannot charge the state more than a 5 percent administrative fee.

Workers from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency bring equipment inside the Cranston Street Armory.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The State Fire Marshal also found 39 code violations at the armory last week; four of those would need to be corrected before the facility could be used as a shelter or warming station. Palagi told the Globe that the four immediate violations have been resolved.

The armory was closed to the public for nearly three decades, but is currently used for an array of purposes. Most recently, it became a site for World Cup watch parties, which were scheduled to take place inside the armory’s Drill Hall with a 40-foot screen through Sunday. Those parties have since been canceled.

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“The administration is continuing to do the work to connect unhoused Rhode Islanders, whether they are encamped at the State House or living elsewhere, with a warm place to stay as quickly as possible,” McKee said in a statement.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.