John MacDonald, vice president for adult services, Crossroads Rhode Island

PBN 2020 Leaders & Achievers Awards
John MacDonald | Vice president for adult services, Crossroads Rhode Island

JOHN MACDONALD, vice president for adult services at Crossroads Rhode Island, grew to know several men living in abandoned buildings when he worked to renovate Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace in the 1970s. Those experiences, coupled with growing up in a close-knit childhood home, instilled in MacDonald the importance of home “as a place from which you could grow and thrive,” he said.

From there, MacDonald helped guide the state’s largest homeless shelter based in Providence to shift its mission to “housing first” in 2013. From the moment someone enters Crossroads, “we start talking about what they need to get them housed,” MacDonald said. “Housing is a right; it’s cheaper and ensures better outcomes for the entire community.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, MacDonald’s biggest challenge, he said, was identifying affordable-housing units for Crossroads’ clients who often rely on Medicaid and Social Security disability payments. In 2019, 3,189 people accessed services across all of Crossroads’ programs, and more than 2,050 men, women and children were no longer homeless.

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Of the ongoing pandemic, MacDonald said, “I never thought I’d have this kind of stamina. There was no oasis. People didn’t know if they’d get infected at home, work, or the supermarket.” McDonald attributes Crossroads’ low COVID-19 infection rate with prompt and early implementation of protocols, including isolating virus-positive clients in hotel rooms, educating staff and clients, communicating with other shelters and the R.I. Department of Health.

MacDonald worked with Crossroads staff to establish a human-resources training program designed to help new employees be successful. After recognizing that House of Hope was effectively managing outreach to individuals on the street, MacDonald decided that Crossroads shouldn’t duplicate those efforts.

Sleep is elusive for MacDonald, who is responsible – with his 70-person team – for managing services for some 1,500 adults, whose number may increase with COVID-19-related unemployment and economic insecurity. He focusses constantly on providing Crossroads’ clients and staff with sufficient support throughout this extended crisis.

“My wife, my faith, and my passionate and empathetic work colleagues all keep me going,” MacDonald said. “I do the work I do because I love it; it’s as simple as that.”