Helping homeless choose right path at Crossroads

By Bridget Botelho
Contributing Writer
Homelessness is an “industry” that very few people want to be involved with, and no one wants to be a client of. But Anne M. Nolan has immersed herself in helping the homeless get back on their feet and continues to develop new programs for the state’s growing homeless population. More

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Helping homeless choose right path at Crossroads

PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
CROSS TO BEAR: Anne Nolan, president of Crossroads Rhode Island, says it’s important to address a homeless person’s case on an individual basis.
By Bridget Botelho
Contributing Writer
Posted 5/16/11

Homelessness is an “industry” that very few people want to be involved with, and no one wants to be a client of. But Anne M. Nolan has immersed herself in helping the homeless get back on their feet and continues to develop new programs for the state’s growing homeless population.

When Nolan took leadership of the homeless-services organization Crossroads Rhode Island in 2001, it was a small nonprofit called Traveler’s Aid, located in an eyesore of a building that reflected a general lack of respect and misunderstanding surrounding homeless people.

So, Nolan started a campaign to raise $12 million to move into a new building and offer services that would help homeless individuals gain skills and receive care. She garnered the support of high-profile community members and business leaders, and within a few years, Traveler’s Aid was rebranded “Crossroads Rhode Island,” with a new home in a better building a few blocks away.

Crossroads Rhode Island now provides a range of services to the state’s homeless, with most of its support from stakeholders and everyday Rhode Islander’s who want to help.

For a trained educator like Nolan, who holds a doctorate in education from the University of Illinois, a master’s in education from McGill University and a bachelor’s degree from Westfield State College, information is the key to stemming the growing homeless issue.

“We realized that homeless people can’t be put in one big bucket; we need to address individuals’ needs,” Nolan said. “A young person has very different needs than a 45-year-old, alcoholic man. So we need to address homelessness based on what the individual person needs – the elderly, the youths and women.”

So this year, Crossroads researched homelessness among specific groups of people, and published the Report on Women and Homelessness on its website in March. The report shows that women are the fastest-growing population of homeless people in the state. The number of homeless men in Rhode Island grew 5 percent over the past decade, while the number of homeless women grew 65 percent over the same 10-year span.

“We opened a shelter for women in 2008 because we noticed more and more women sleeping on the floor [at Crossroads] every night,” Nolan said. “That shelter filled the day we opened it and has remained over-capacity since. We needed to get an idea of why it was happening.”

Part of the reason women are prone to homelessness could be that women today are less likely to stay in unhealthy relationships, and if they don’t have financial support, they end up homeless, Nolan said. Crossroads is using that type of information to tailor its case management and develop programs for unique groups, including job training and targeted health care seminars.

Nolan has also established many other new programs and partnerships to serve the homeless over the years, including partnerships with Providence Community Health Centers, which provides access to health care for Rhode Island’s adult homeless population, and with Amos House, which provides meals for 200 formerly homeless residents living at 160 Broad St.

She also created vocational-training programs in the health and animal care fields and other educational programs that have trained thousands of low-income and homeless adults who needed skills to get secure jobs.

The demand for those services increased tremendously over the past few years due to a poor economy, but state and federal funding have not. So Nolan has had to garner support from community donors to keep Crossroads’ programs running.

And she has. Since Nolan took over Crossroads, the organization’s revenue has more than doubled and assets have increased tenfold. The organization managed to develop 62 units of permanent housing for families, 16 apartments for disabled homeless adults, 176 subsidized, single-room occupancy units, Rhode Island’s first permanent supportive housing for homeless elders, an emergency shelter for 15 families, and a shelter for 41 women.

Nolan is also overseeing the establishment of an endowment through The Rhode Island Foundation that will grow over time and give Crossroads “some breathing room” when other sources of funding slow, she said.

All of the skills Nolan uses to drive Crossroads she gained during her former career as a senior organizational manager at various profit-based companies. In fact, she spent over 30 years working for profit-based companies and serving on boards for nonprofits, before making nonprofit work her career.

Today, Nolan serves as a board member for several organizations, including Highlander Charter School/Dunn Institute, Rhode Island Hospital Community Affairs committee member, and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Formerly, she served as a board member for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless and The Village for Families & Children in Hartford.

She was also one of three leaders to receive the Rhode Island Commission on Women 2010 Women of the Year award, and was named a Purpose Prize Fellow in 2008. •

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