R.I. officials unveil plan to address homelessness this winter

PROVIDENCE – Expanded shelter capacity along with collaborating with cities and towns, faith leaders, community foundations and landlords were among the strategies state officials unveiled Friday to address homelessness this winter.

The plan calls for new opportunities for local communities to create winter emergency hubs that are available on days of extreme weather, and an expanded homelessness prevention and problem-solving program designed to reduce the number of homeless people across the state. 

“This winter, Rhode Island is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to preventing and addressing homelessness,” Gov. Dan J. McKee said in a statement. “I am grateful to the service providers, faith leaders and municipalities who have answered the call to identify new locations for shelter and services, and who are working closely with state agencies to ensure we keep Rhode Islanders warm and safe this winter.” 

The state plans to add 318 beds, bringing the potential number to over 500 beds more than last winter. Also, the state is piloting new rapidly deployable shelters – also referred to as pallet shelters – in Pawtucket or Providence. These sites would be available for 30-45 rapidly deployable, temporary units. Experienced service providers such as House of Hope will partner to provide services to those pallet shelters, according to a news release.

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In addition, the R.I. Department of Housing is partnering with the R.I. Emergency Management Agency and municipalities to open emergency winter hubs. 

“Protecting Rhode Island families from homelessness is our top priority this winter, starting with the hundreds of new shelter beds our administration and our municipal leaders have created this year,” Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos said. “This plan does more than increase the size of the safety net – it will also help Rhode Islanders at risk of falling into homelessness through crucial programs like legal services support. I’m grateful to our statewide network of partners who have joined us to create this comprehensive winter shelter plan.”

The plan calls for investing $750,000 in “flexible financial assistance” plus $1 million in counseling to help the homeless find places to live. There’s also a plan to collaborate with the Rhode Island Foundation to provide opportunities for local nonprofits, corporations and others to make donations to support the cause of reducing homelessness. McKee’s office said more information is expected to be released next week.

Officials also noted the continuing financial support for legal services to prevent evictions through the work of Rhode Island Legal Services, the Center for Justice, Direct Action for Rights and Equality and HousingWorks RI. The governor’s office said any Rhode Islander who earns less than 80% of area median income can access these services free of charge.

Additionally, faith leaders are working closely with the Department of Housing to identify possible properties for winter or temporary use and municipal leaders have been asked to identify locations for shelter and warming center expansion. The state said this collaboration has led to the expansion of Emanuel House in Providence by 41 beds and has identified other potential locations, such as in Cumberland and Coventry. 

“We are pleased that Rhode Island nonprofits, property owners, and houses of worship are stepping up in recognition of the need for more shelters and services as the winter approaches,” R.I. Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor said. “We will continue the active collaborations which, thankfully, have even more potential to add beds and supports in the coming weeks.”