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HOMELESSNESS

R.I. plans to place small shelters for homeless individuals behind Foxy Lady strip club in Providence

The Department of Housing will construct a pallet shelter “village” of 45 small, one-room structures on a vacant plot of state-owned land on Victor Street

Homeless advocates erected a rapidly deployable shelter outside the Rhode Island State House in October 2022.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — The R.I. Department of Housing will place temporary shelters for homeless individuals and couples on a state-owned plot of land behind the Foxy Lady strip club in Providence, the department announced Thursday.

The Department of Housing will construct a “village” of 45 small, one-room structures on a vacant plot of state-owned land on Victor Street behind the strip club. The one-room structures were ordered from Pallet, a public benefit corporation working to end unsheltered homelessness.

“We’re pleased that the development of this pallet community is moving forward. ECHO Village will offer both shelter and supports to individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness,” said Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor. “This initiative reflects our dedication to fostering well-being, dignity, and opportunity for vulnerable Rhode Islanders.”

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The pallet shelters are single-occupancy units, but couples will be allowed to stay in them if they are in separate beds. Pets will also be allowed. Sources said House of Hope, a nonprofit organization, will provide around-the-clock services on-site.

The state has ordered the pallet shelters, and they are expected to arrive by the end of the month. Some site work will be necessary, such as utility hookups. The pallet village will take up less than one acre of open field the four-acre property, which is owned by the Department of Transportation.

Each unit will be 70 square feet, with screened windows, fire extinguishers, smoke and CO2 detectors, electrical outlets, and heating and cooling units.

The idea to use of temporary, rapidly deployable pallet shelters to provide emergency winter housing has been in the works for the last several winters, but the state has been unable to identify a suitable location until now. In October, Pryor confirmed to the Globe that he was in “active discussions” with more than one city in Rhode Island, but that negotiations were at a “high level.”

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As the pandemic began in 2020, House of Hope executive director Laura Jaworski suggested using pallet shelters in a plan she called “Echo Village.” While pallet shelters are new to Rhode Island, they have been used in other parts of New England, including like Boston and Burlington, Vt.

In October 2022, advocates called on Rhode Island to place 30 of these tiny homes at the Pastore Complex in Cranston, but the idea faced opposition from the city’s council members.

Crews from Pallet move new pods into a homeless camp in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

As the housing crisis gets worse, homeless encampments have been popping up across the state in highly visible and public places — underneath highway bridges, in downtown parking lots, and even in front of the State House in the last year alone. Community frustration tends to fester over homeless encampments, even as Rhode Island’s housing crisis continues, with a shortage of affordable units and people getting priced out of the housing market.

In most cases, encampments that are visible to the public have been dismantled, forcing service providers to quickly identify shelters that could take individuals in, or figure out a makeshift housing solution.

Shelters in Rhode Island are consistently at maximum capacity, and unlike neighboring Massachusetts, Rhode Island has no “right-to-shelter” law requiring the state to provide housing for people who qualify. Many who are forced to leave an encampment have no choice but to set up tents somewhere else — or sleep in their cars or in other places not meant for human habitation.

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The state’s approach to clearing encampments of homeless people has been previously challenged in court.


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