ECHO Village project vocally opposed by South PVD residents and politicians“The comments that some of you are making are insensitive to people with lived experience, who have been homeless… We’re not all drug addicts… We came here to talk to you guys about the realities of homelessness. You could be standing next to somebody who is homeless and don’t even know. Everybody is saying you don’t want this in your community, but it’s already in your community.”
Published on July 23, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
The South Providence Neighborhood Association (SPNA) held a meeting Thursday evening to discuss a proposal from House of Hope CDC to build 30 tiny homes, pallet structures, inside a large empty building at the corner of Prairie Avenue and Thurbers Avenue in Providence. The project, Emergency COVID Housing Opportunities (ECHO) Village, would house up to 60 unsheltered people and provide 24/7 wraparound services, including medical and permanent housing assistance. It’s a 12-month program and when the year is up, the pallet structures will be disassembled and stored away for future emergency use.
Over 200 community members, mostly opposed to the plan, attended the meeting inside the the proposed location, but the meeting wasn’t underway long before State Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) asked that the meeting be brought outside.
“I don’t know what it is we’re breathing in while we’re in here,” said Representative Williams. “The next thing I propose is that we utilize a lot out there because it’s going to get dark shortly and I’m not going to stand in here with this heat that’s among all of us…”
Representative Williams led the crowd outside and across the street to the lawn of Roger Williams Middle School. People carried their belongings and their chairs with them.
“House of Hope has an idea, some of you may have heard about it, for that building,” said SPNA President Dwayne Keys after the crowd regrouped. He introduced Arely Diaz, who worked as a Spanish language interpreter, and Laura Jaworski, Executive Director of House of Hope CDC.
Director Jaworski, struggled to explain the project, given the frequent interruptions from elected officials and the crowd. The interpreter, Diaz, was also frequently interrupted by elected officials, who disregarded her service and provided their own translations.
“A core value of House of Hope is to meet people where they are at,” said Jaworski. “So yes, we do spend a large amount of our time in the urban cities of the State of Rhode Island. House of Hope live here. House of Hope rents here. And by here I mean in this community, in this neighborhood.”
Many people were unconvinced. A man in the crowd said that House of Hope is based in Warwick, which is true, but House of Hope provides services throughout the state, maintained Jaworski.
“We have watched the number of unsheltered individuals quadruple in the last for years, and the last year that number has risen by 68 percent,” continued Jaworski. “These are people that are living outside, in their cars, on the streets and in tents, and in RVs.”
After Executive Director Jaworski finished, elected officials took over the meeting. Senator Ana Quezada (Democrat, District 2, Providence); Representatives Anastasia Williams, Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence), and Jose Batista (Democrat, District 12, Providence); and Providence City Councilmembers Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Pedro Espinal (Ward 10) and Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) took center stage.
Earlier in the day Councilmember Espinal had released a statement in opposition to the project. Calling the idea, “noble and necessary” Espinal opined that the proposed location was not appropriate.
“This homeless shelter is yet another matter which disproportionally affects the residents of South Providence,” said Espinal in his statement, which he largely paraphrased to those in attendance at the SPNA meeting. “This neighborhood is constantly facing new threats to public health and safety. From the proposed garbage transfer station in 2020, to the more recent proposal to expand storage of liquid propane gas in the Port of Providence, why must South Providence continue fighting these battles?”
“As you can see, South Providence has always… not been treated fairly,” continued Councilmember Espinal, who went on to talk about the garbage transfer station aimed at the area over a year ago, as well as the current proposal to expand LPG (Liquid Propane Gas) import, storage and delivery in the Port of Providence.
“The struggle and the fight that we have is because it’s always been believed that when somebody doesn’t want it anywhere else, you bring it to South Providence and somehow it will be accepted,” said councilmember Espinal. “We are poor, but we have dignity, we have respect and we know when to come together when we need to come together and we help one another out.”
The other politicians who spoke were also clear in their opposition.
“We just want them to know that we do not want them in this neighborhood,” said Senator Quesada. “Nobody else wants it, let’s bring it to Providence South Side.”
“No, no, no,” objected Diamond, a formerly unsheltered woman. “Everybody who’s homeless here, we’re not a problem.”
The meeting at this point burst into an argument.
“Hold up,” said another woman. “The comments that some of you are making are insensitive to people with lived experience, who have been homeless… We’re not all drug addicts… We came here to talk to you guys about the realities of homelessness. You could be standing next to somebody who is homeless and don’t even know. Everybody is saying you don’t want this in your community, but it’s already in your community.”
Though the conversation continued on for at least another half hour, it was a chaotic scene of people talking over each other, with little in the way of substantive conversations.
“It’s a great idea,” said SPNA President Keys. “Wrong location. The concentration of certain services in South Providence is a racism issue…”
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