Public Services

Pawtucket opens temporary warming shelter at 1139 Main Street

The shelter opens Friday, February 3rd at 7am and will run around the clock, through Monday, February 6th. The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen will also be preparing 3 fresh meals per day.

Rhode Island News: Pawtucket opens temporary warming shelter at 1139 Main Street

February 2, 2023, 6:52 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

The City of Pawtucket is officially opening the doors to a new 24-hour warming shelter at 1139 Main Street for this weekend, on an emergency basis. The shelter opens Friday, February 3rd at 7am and will run around the clock, through Monday, February 6th. The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen will also be preparing three fresh meals per day.

The opening was announced days after the city condemned the Black Lives Matter Warming Center located at 92 East Avenue and just ahead of extremely cold weather hitting the state this weekend. There are no plans to keep the shelter open after February 6th, when temperatures will be milder, but still dangerous and cold for unsheltered people.

“1139 Main Street was purchased by the Pawtucket Housing Authority with the collaboration of the City of Pawtucket through a grant that was funded through the CARES Act,” said Paula McFarland, PHA Executive Director. “It was purchased in the middle of June. After we closed on the property, we found that the property had some issues with asbestos and mold, and we remediated the building. That took several months for that to occur. Now the property is ready for many of our unhoused residents in the City of Pawtucket.

“They’ll be able to have food and community services while the stay in the emergency warming station for the next couple of days,” continued McFarland. “In the back of the room we have two bathrooms that have been repaired and that are ready and functional, as well as an area for sleeping cots. All the fire alarm systems have been taken care of by our outside vendors and approved by the Fire Marshall of the City of Pawtucket. The occupancy of the space has been determined by the City of Pawtucket through the fire department. The building is ready.”

In accordance with the State Fire Marshal, the building only allows for sixteen cots but has plenty of tables and chairs as well as additional space for anyone to rest and enjoy a meal throughout the day.

“We are incredibly relieved, that this warming center will be open before the dangerous temperatures this weekend,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien. “I want to thank Brother Gary and Black Lives Matter Rhode Island and other community partners for their advocacy and services, as well as the Pawtucket Housing Authority, our Department of Public Works and Planning Department, the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, as well as our Emergency Management team. Without them, this shelter would not be a reality.”

For this weekend, the shelter will be run and monitored by Brother Gary Dantzler, of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, as well as their volunteers. The city is appreciative of their service.

“We just want to shelter the homeless and make sure that they’re provided with the right equipment for the national disaster weather,” said Brother Gary Dantzler. “The mayor’s doing a good job. He’s honored himself, so I appreciate that.”

What happens after February when temperatures will still be cold is unknown. The state is taking the lead on securing a permanent service provider and a request for proposal process is expected to go out in the next few days.

Uprise RI spoke with Dylan Zelazo, Director of Administration for the City of Pawtucket about the warming shelter:

Uprise RI: We know it gets cold in Rhode Island in the winter, but we’re not ready with a shelter in Pawtucket in time for the winter?

Dylan Zelazo: Yeah.

Uprise RI: What is the delay? Why aren’t we getting ahead of this and why are we doing it with like 24 hours to go, as people sleep outside in already too cold temperatures, never mind sub-zero?

Dylan Zelazo: That’s a multi-year conversation, but…

Uprise RI: It gets cold every year…

Dylan Zelazo: For many, many years there was the emergency shelter at St. Paul‘s where we funded a regional shelter using CSBG dollars. And they closed [at the beginning of COVID] so at that point you’ll recall there was the emergency use of hotels and those types of things. We opened Memorial Hospital last year as an emergency shelter because we were in the process of acquiring this facility and it wasn’t going to be ready. We worked with the state and Amos House over there but that operation’s been extended because they has a pipe burst issue. So again, it’s not an ideal situation, but that’s the situation we’ve been grappling with. And at the same time then Mayor took the extraordinary step of repurposing those funds that aren’t being used at the St. Paul’s site to create a more permanent footprint here.

Uprise RI: I ask this of every public official. Why weren’t we doing more earlier?

Dylan Zelazo: It’s going to depend on the person you talked to but I think you might grapple with a conversation of what agency performs that function…

Uprise RI: Though, while we’re grappling with that conversation, people are dying. It’s life and death. Were other locations in the city considered for a warming center, outside of District 5? Because District 5 is one of the poorest districts in the city. It has the least greenspace of any district.

Dylan Zelazo: There was a look around for property. This property was ultimately identified. We purchased it with funds that traditionally have gone to fund emergency regional shelters during winter. The shelter at the church closed in 2020, give or take. We were able to buy this building. We’ve been working now for about a year to try to get an RFP put together for a provider to run this facility. That’s a state function, so we’re working very closely with Governor Daniel McKee‘s administration. Kim Ahern has been very helpful. We’re hopeful the RFP is going out in the next week or two. But in the meantime, we have the issues at 92 East Ave. That building’s not safe to be occupied right now.

We got to get through those issues. Brother Gary stepped up, he’s been helping people, he’s going to help people here and we get through this weekend. That’s the first step. So to answer the question: long term, that RFP process has to happen; short term, we are opening this as a warming center just like we would the library or the police station. That’s what we’re doing. So this is short term. Brother Gary’s team’s going to help us run it. That’s why we’re here today.

Uprise RI: You remember the trouble that they had getting a vendor for the Armory in Providence. On the first go round, an RFP went out and nobody accepted. They called in the National Guard. Do you foresee problems doing something here with that? I know Brother Gary wants to step up, which is great, but if for some reason that doesn’t come through…

Dylan Zelazo: As I understand it, supply is an issue relative to providers. The state has a process that they go through for providers to get on a list. Then you have to deal with the amount of providers you have. Just like we have a set number of firefighters, we have a set number of police officers. It’s the same thing here. So yes, that is a concern and a challenge. I think Brother Gary’s organization, if they get on that list, fantastic. If they don’t, how do they partner with somebody on that list? Because Brother Gary knows this community. He’s been doing the work. I think it’s phenomenal. And that’s why we’re partnering with him here.