PROVIDENCE — More than 200 Providence residents and housing advocates wanted answers Thursday about what will happen when the state closes the warming center at the Cranston Street Armory this spring.
Housing Secretary Stefan I. Pryor pleaded with neighbors during a meeting Thursday night to “work with” the state and homeless providers through “at least the end of April.”
“Are we really doing this? Are we really exiting the armory? Yes, yes we are,” Pryor told the packed lunchroom at the West Broadway Middle School. “We are working our hearts out.”
But Pryor did not specify when the warming center could close at the meeting organized by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association that was designed to discuss the armory’s future.
“We are fanning out across the state, contacting everyone we know, getting the job done... But we do need help,” said Pryor. “And you have shown hospitality that, frankly, not every community would.”
The state turned the armory into an around-the-clock warming station staffed by Amos House and the Rhode Island National Guard in December. At the time of its opening, Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration said it planned to phase out the warming station ahead of April 15.
Amos House director Eileen Hayes stated clearly to the meeting’s crowd: “We are not staying at the Armory.”
Hayes listed off a number of personal, heart-wrenching stories of people who have been staying at the armory for months. In at least 15 cases, Amos House staff has connected homeless individuals to detox programs. She said 15 other individuals, including one man in his 80s who had Stage 4 cancer and had been dropped off by a local hospital, were placed in assisted-living facilities.
“This is the humanity part of what we’re doing here,” said Hayes, who said “not one person” died from an accidental drug overdose at the warming station. “It’s brought everything into one place — the ways that our system has failed these men and women many times.”
While the armory is not the solution, Hayes said, “I would be lying to you if I said we had a bed for every person there by April 30. We just don’t have enough shelters.”
Before the association’s meeting, Pryor was recommended by the Senate Committee on Housing & Municipal Government on Thursday night to be confirmed by the full Senate.
“You’re stepping into a hornets nest” by focusing on the state’s housing crisis, Chairman Frank Lombardo III told Pryor in front of the committee.
During his remarks, Pryor told senators he believed there needed to be a financial commitment from the state for housing production, but he did not provide details. He also recommended there be staff dedicated to homelessness within the housing department. “It’s clear... from the steps and missteps to date” that Rhode Island does not have enough resources to put toward homelessness, he said.
Earlier on Thursday, Continuum of Care, which helps guide policies and programs for homelessness and administers federal and state homeless funds, released a formal Request for Information on behalf of the housing department seeking to identify locations in Rhode Island that can be used for emergency shelter. These sites or buildings could include vacant lots, pre-existing buildings, or properties such as hotels, schools, and dorms. The state is also looking for service providers to staff these potential shelters.
“The Department of Housing is also calling on cities and towns to provide sites and buildings for the purpose of expanding emergency shelter and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness,” wrote department spokesman Joseph Lindstrom.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.