PROVIDENCE — An hour after the homeless shelter inside the Cranston Street Armory was expected to close after five months in operation, the Rhode Island Department of Housing finally announced early Monday that it plans to fund various emergency shelter sites across the greater Providence area.
The department has funded an additional 40 rooms at three hotels that have been converted to makeshift shelters in Woonsocket and North Smithfield, which have been staffed by nonprofit Community Care Alliance.
Crossroads Rhode Island, a housing and homeless service provider, will add 10 beds at their facility on Broad Street in Providence. Emmanuel House, a men’s shelter operated by the Diocese of Providence, has opened 20 new beds that could be reserved for individuals leaving the armory. The shelter was previously provided state funding to expand their shelter capacity by at least 30 beds, which will likely become available in the next “several weeks,” according to the housing department.
Last week, Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi confirmed that the Housing Department planned to move 55 homeless individuals into the Motel 6 on Jefferson Boulevard, which is in addition to the 40 individuals who have been staying at the motel since last fall.
Aside from the Warwick motel, Housing Department spokesman Joseph Lindstrom said he would not confirm the specific hotels where some rooms would be converted into makeshift homeless shelters ”out of respect and courtesy for the business owners and the clients.”
Some of the hotel and motel rooms will be made available for couples. However, it’s unclear if these 125 newly funded shelter beds will ensure that each person leaving the armory has somewhere to go.
The armory, which initially opened as an around-the-clock “warming center” for up to 50 people in December 2022, has grown and has often served between 150 and 200 people, on average, each day. The facility was funded by the state, but was staffed by nonprofit homeless service provider Amos House and the Rhode Island National Guard.
On Monday, Lindstrom wrote in a statement that because of the way the state’s coordinated entry system was structured, it is “not the case that all new beds will be allocated to any category of Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness,” such as those staying at the Armory.
The Coordinated Entry System, or CES, is a calling system designed to ensure people experiencing housing insecurity have “fair and equal access” to shelter. Those who are in the system can be quickly identified, assessed, referred, and connected to housing and shelter spaces based on their needs. During a Continuum of Care board meeting on May 4, Michael Tondra, the director for community planning and funding at the state’s Housing Department, had requested the board approve temporary adjustments to CES that would allow those in the armory to have priority access to over “new shelter capacity” that would be soon opening.
The board eventually voted to communicate with shelter providers to not hold beds for referred individuals for more than one night in order to ensure that shelters did not have unnecessary vacancies.
The armory was originally slated to close by April 15, but was extended to April 30. Despite concerns from Providence neighbors and city officials that included Mayor Brett Smiley’s office, the state’s Housing Department decided to extend operations at the Cranston Street Armory for an additional two weeks, to close on Monday.
Smiley’s office previously told the Globe that more than 40 percent of all emergency calls in Providence were for those being served at the armory.
During the Continuum of Care board meeting on May 4, Amos House executive director Eileen Hayes said the armory has “saved hundreds of lives.” She said hotels and motels are not ideal makeshift shelter locations, particularly those suffering from substance abuse, but are “necessary when the state lacks shelter beds.”
“We can’t monitor people behind a closed door,” said Hayes.