Health Care

City officials surprised as unhoused encampment on Wilson St is half bulldozed by developer Knight & Swan

“Should the city be dealing with a developer that bulldozes homeless encampments?”
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Published on October 21, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Early this week, several agencies that work with unhoused members of the community were told that the City of Providence would be issuing notifications of eviction to the people occupying the houseless encampment on Wilson Street, also known as the Guerrilla Garden. Those notifications, they were told, would be issued on Wednesday.

Sure enough, on Wednesday Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and police captain Henry Remolina at the encampment, wearing body cameras, to issue the eviction notices. By all reports Commissioner Paré and the officer were cordial and professional.

In total, about 14 people are currently staying in the encampment.

Uprise RI has covered this encampment since June 10th here:

Uprise RI later asked Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza why the City dispatches police officers to issue eviction notices, which are a civil, not criminal matter. The Mayor said that doing so was city policy and that officers are paired with advocacy workers to issue such notices.

When Commissioner Paré arrived at the encampment, he was apparently surprised to see that half the encampment, the lot owned by Knight & Swan LLC a developer out of New York, had been bulldozed. All the trash that had been too heavy to lift, as well as entire sections of pavement and whatever was left of the gardens the original campers had developed there were pushed into a giant pile onto the half of the lot owned by the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA).

This pile of trash now directly abuts several of the tents that the campers live in and the port-a-potty the residents rent. The bulldozers had arrived on Tuesday afternoon, dispatched by Federico Manaigo, the developer from Knight & Swan LLC. Knight & Swan “is a privately owned real estate development company based in New York City focused on urban regeneration projects in the inner city.” The developer works to gentrify neighborhoods and receives substantial state and city tax breaks to do so. See also here.

In Mayor Elorza’s office, Uprise RI and two other reporters asked what had happened at the Wilson Street lot, and why a developer thought it was okay to bulldoze away the property of unhoused people when an eviction process that was set to find real housing for the campers was ostensibly already underway.

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“We had no prior knowledge of [the developer’s actions],” said Mayor Elorza. “That came as a surprise to us as well.”

Asked by a Providence Journal reporter whether permits were required to bring in the bulldozers and do this work, Mayor Elorza replied, “I don’t know.”

Asked if the City has any concerns about people now living directly next to a large pile of trash, or any concerns about a developer bulldozing trash off his lot and onto City property, Mayor Elorza replied, “We’ve got to figure this out.”

Uprise RI asked if Knight & Swan will be purchasing the PRA lot from the city after the evictions are over.

“They’ve been talking to the city for a long time and they’ve wanted this lot for months,” said Mayor Elorza.

“Should the city be dealing with a developer that bulldozes homeless encampments?” asked UpriseRI.

Obviously there are more questions than answers regarding the actions of New York developer Federico Manaigo of Knight & Swan LLC.

Uprise RI asked Mayor Elorza why the city decided to move to evict the Wilson Street encampment now.

There are three reasons, said Mayor Elorza:

  1. The encampment had to end at some point. The encampment is not a solution, especially as it starts to get cold.
  2. Over the past several months Mayor Elorza has been working with providers to find permanent solutions. He has committed to using $500k in ARPA funds to deal with homelessness. The city should have a plan in place for this money by November 1st.
  3. From a public safety and quality of life stand point for the surrounding neighborhood, the encampment had become an unsustainable situation.

See also: Providence orders Wilson Street homeless encampment residents to vacate — again

Curiously, the Providence Journal does not mention that the encampment was bulldozed.

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