Karen Santilli

As a longtime marketing specialist, Karen Santilli understands the value of a good message.

Add tenacity, compassion and a get-things-done attitude, and you have a nonprofit leader to be reckoned with. Would-be donors, business and community leaders and elected officials have learned that firsthand since she was elevated to CEO and president of Crossroads Rhode Island in 2015, seven years after joining the organization.

“Housing is a right; people in Rhode Island are homeless and they shouldn’t be,” she told PBN soon after that promotion. She’s been leading the fight to reduce the population of homeless Rhode Islanders ever since.

In 2016, Crossroads absorbed the programs of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, integrating domestic violence and homeless services through Santilli’s organization.

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In 2018 the nonprofit received a $5 million infusion from the Bezos Day One Fund. Santilli called the grant “transformational” and immediately put it to work. A year later, Crossroads’ family-shelter waitlist had been significantly reduced.

The funding also allowed the nonprofit to provide immediate access to permanent housing for many individuals and families.

When COVID-19 swept the nation and world in 2020, Santilli was among the most persistent local voices urging lawmakers to create a permanent funding stream for affordable housing. And with the pandemic still raging locally the following year, she unveiled a multimillion renovation for the organization’s Broad Street building that provides supportive housing.

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