Armory warming shelter update and the future of Rhode Island’s homeless crisis
Director Hayes not only explained the presence of and need for actions taken at the Armory – she also answered a wave of neighborhood criticism for the toll the warming shelter was taking on the community. “I would be lying to you if I said that we’re going to have a bed for every person that’s been there by April 30th. It’s not going to happen.”
The Providence City Council and the West Broadway Neighborhood Association brought Rhode Island Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor to the West Broadway School Cafeteria to provide an update on the use of the Cranston Street Armory as a warming shelter for unhoused people in Rhode Island. The Armory was chosen by Governor Daniel McKee after months of disputing, ignoring and downplaying the problem of homelessness in the state and after clearing an encampment on State House land with no clear idea of how to shelter the people being evicted.
To set the stage, Amos House executive director Eileen Hayes provided a short history of her organization’s efforts, in cooperation with the Rhode Island National Guard, to shelter what was planned to be around 50 people, but ended up being around 200 unhoused individuals each day.
Director Hayes not only explained the presence of and need for actions taken at the Armory – she also answered a wave of neighborhood criticism for the toll the warming shelter was taking on the community. Much of that angst was captured in a piece Horton wrote for Uprise RI, but in that same piece there was also a lot of pride expressed about how the neighborhood stepped up in a time of crisis. The meeting was attended by many Southside residents, who pointed out that their neighborhoods have been absorbing the negative impacts of social services located there for decades – without any state or city response or mitigation to speak of. Yaimani Rivera, who spoke at the meeting last night, supplied an editorial to Uprise RI about this issue.
Two quotes in particular are worth highlighting:
“The Armory has brought to one place the ways that our systems have failed.”
“I would be lying to you if I said that we’re going to have a bed for every person that’s been there by April 30th. It’s not going to happen.”
What Director Hayes said is worth quoting in full:
“I’m going to start by saying thank you to all of the neighbors who actually did welcome us when we moved into the Armory back on December 18th at four o’clock. We received the contract on December 17th and we have 30 staff hired ready to go by December 18th. Many of you came by and dropped off donations and asked how you could help. It felt like an amazing community effort and we were very grateful and appreciative of that. I know that there’s a lot of emotions around the Armory and I also know that there are conflicting needs. There are the needs of the folks that have been calling it home since December 18th, even though it’s not a place that should ever be called home. We have cots. We do not have bathrooms inside. We do not have showers.
“When we took on the contract, we were taking on a contract for 50 cots and possibly 16 overflow. We’ve had close to 200 people every night, which speaks to the incredible need of our unhoused folks in the state and in the city. And many of these are actually city residents. That being said, I recognize and appreciate the burden that it has put on the neighborhood. I’m here to say that I absolutely know we should not be there long term. We are working towards being done with the Armory by the end of April because it’s not the place for people to be in the summertime. It’s not a long term solution. It’s not a short term solution, but it’s what we were faced with when the need just kept growing and growing and growing.
“I want to give you a little bit of context about the folks that we’ve actually engaged with and helped. We’ve had many, many folks dropped off at the Armory from area hospitals – discharged to the street in wheelchairs. The first week we were there, we had two men that were in their eighties, one with stage four cancer who had no place to go. He slept on a cot with us for about a month until we got him into assisted living. We’ve placed about 15 men and women in assisted living. We’ve had probably 15 individuals that have gone from the Armory to detox, and into Amos House’s 90 day treatment program. Two of those men are now reunited with their families and their kids and they’re living in one of our apartments. So we’ve had a lot of wins, a lot of really important wins. We have been there since December 18, and not one person has died of an overdose. Not one person.
“Just so you understand the context: In 2021, there were 435 overdose deaths in our state. 435. So the fact that we’ve had close to 200 people a night, many struggling with substance use disorders and nobody has died, is incredibly important. But we’re also not a harm reduction center. There’s a place for that, and that’s not what we’re going to be doing. We’re trying to keep people alive. That really was the purpose of the warming center. It’s to keep people alive when it has been really cold. That weekend when the temperatures dropped, we probably had about five men and women brought to the Armory with frostbite that we treated. We’ve been able to medically detox four men who were undocumented, who cannot get a bed in a detox center because of their undocumented status. Our doctor medically detoxed him at the Armory.
“We have a woman there who has a pervasive mental illness, and we have not been able to get her into treatment anywhere because she won’t sign the forms because she has pervasive mental illness. We have been treating her at the Armory. Our staff, Mo and Adrian, have gotten her after weeks and weeks and weeks of getting her out from underneath a blanket to agree to let us try to get her a bed in a group home. This is the humanity part of what we’re doing at the Armory. And I really want you to recognize the thing that the Armory has done. We have folks here from other agencies who have done this work for a long time. House of Hope has done incredible street outreach work. The Armory has brought to one place the ways that our systems have failed.
“Many of the folks don’t have a voice. Many of the men and women have been unhoused for a long period of time. We do not have shelter beds for everybody at the Armory. If we could put everybody at the Armory in a bed right now, we would. But we don’t have enough small shelters where people who have substance use disorders and behavioral health disorders can feel safe. Many of the folks who have come to Armory have been sleeping outside for a long period of time because they did not feel safe in places like bigger shelters, so they chose to sleep outside. We’re now working on trying to get them someplace, but I would be lying to you if I said that we’re going to have a bed for every person that’s been there by April 30th. It’s not going to happen.
“I know that Secretary Stefan Pryor will give you an overview of things that are in the works, but in fairness to him and [Assistant Secretary of Housing] Hannah Moore, they just started February 6th. We were meeting January 6th, but they hadn’t started [their jobs] yet.
“The other thing I will say is that we have would never have been able to do this without the Armory. [Rhode Island National Guard Lieutenant Colonel] David Lamont has been a partner in this every step of the way. I believe we’ve taught them a lot about how to work with people in a loving, caring way. We even have an ongoing joke that we’re teaching the Guard how to hug… We have learned from each other. They have helped us set up structures so that we can keep people safe inside the Armory.
“I know people have complained about the Porta Johns. Believe me, if we didn’t have to use Porta Johns, we would not be using Porta Johns. We have a company cleaning the Porta Johns twice a day. We have five cleaners from Amos House and staff that we’ve hired to clean the grounds. We have a contract for the park. Our staff “Hand Up” program has been cleaning up around. It’s probably not enough. I’m sure you’re probably still having folks come by your doorstep and do things that you don’t want them to do and I apologize for that. All I’m asking, as the director of Amos House, is to let us work to get folks to the best place they can be as quickly as we can.
“That doesn’t mean I’m asking for us to stay through the summer. I don’t think that would be a good idea and I’ve said that to the state. I said that to the Guard. But we might need a little bit more time. I know our contract was supposed to be up April 15th. We may be there through the end of April. Hopefully that’s it. But I invite you to come in as much as you want. I cannot say enough how grateful we are that you all did allow us to come into the community. I’ve been doing this work at Amos House for many, many years, and I appreciate the support that we’ve gotten. I agree with you that this is not the solution and I will give you my word that we are not staying at the Armory. Absolutely not.”
Secretary Pryor confirmed that every effort is being made to wind down operations at the Armory by the end of April. Director James Thorsen from the Rhode Island Department of Administration said that the neighborhood could expect an announcement on the future of the Armory, and specifically the Scout development, by May. The Scout development plan seemed popular with those in attendance.
City Council President Rachel Miller announced the creation of a Housing task force at the meeting. “The task force’s goals include maintaining a diversity of housing options throughout the city, preserving and expanding affordable housing, and ensuring all households have safe, adequate housing.”
You view the entire meeting here.
- 00:00:00 Providence City Council President Rachel Miller
- 00:05:33 Noel Sanchez, WBNA treasurer and boardmember
- 00:07:38 Michael Stevens Community Engagement Officer with the Providence Police Department
- 00:08:38 Eileen Hayes, executive director of Amos House
- 00:18:20 Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor
- 00:31:32 Senator Samuel Bell
- 00:33:09 Representative Enrique Sanchez
- 00:35:26 Question 1 – Pat Ford
- 00:37:00 Question 2 – Doug Victor
- 00:40:57 Question 3 – Stefanie Beauté
- 00:44:49 Question 4 – Kiesha Dickie
- 00:47:34 Question 5 – Bobby Oliveira
- 00:51:33 Question 6 – Yaimani Rivera
- 00:54:13 Question 7 – Linda Eibel
- 00:55:33 Question 8 – Julio E. Berroa, executive director of Haus of Codec
- 00:57:45 Question 9
- 00:59:07 Question 10 – Adam Northrup
- 01:01:24 Question 11 – Alexandrea Gonzalez
- 01:03:20 Question 12 – Ettiene Coté
- 01:04:15 Question 13
- 01:08:39 Question 14 – Rose
- 01:11:54 Question 16 – Eileen Hayes
- 01:12:23 Question 17
- 01:14:48 Question 18 – John Prince
- 01:16:40 Director James E. Thorsen from the RI Department of Administration
- 01:20:39 Council President Rachel Miller