Unsheltered in Providence: Armory Shutdown Leaves Many Homeless With Nowhere to Go

With the closure of the Cranston Street Armory Warming Station, the homeless crisis in Providence deepens. Despite new shelter options, many people find themselves left out on the streets, exposing the harsh realities of Rhode Island’s housing crisis.

Rhode Island News: Unsheltered in Providence: Armory Shutdown Leaves Many Homeless With Nowhere to Go

May 15, 2023, 12:00 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

An older Black man was sitting on the sidewalk on the edge of Dexter Park in Providence on Monday morning. Everything he owned was in the five or six plastic bags around him. The night before was the last night he was allowed to sleep at the Cranston Street Armory Warming Station.

“I don’t know where I’m going now,” he told Uprise RI, just before two National Guardsmen approached us.

Guardsman: Unfortunately I’m going to move you off the sidewalk and into the park because this is a hazard. All this, you being here, is a hazard.

Man: I’m trying to sort my stuff.

Guardsman: If you’re going through your things and throwing things away in the dumpster, try to take advantage now that the gate is open. I can’t have you just sitting down and just – laying there. I need you to be active – go through your things as soon as possible.

Man: I just want to finish my cigarette.

Guardsman: That cigarette will be more rewarding once you’re done. I need you to start putting your things together. Be productive.

As the Cranston Street Armory permanently shut down operations as a warming station, the Rhode Island Department of Housing announced it is funding additional and expanded emergency shelter in various locations, including Warwick, Woonsocket, North Smithfield, and Providence. The Department hopes that with these new and expanded sites, there will be capacity to serve approximately 150 Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness.

Occupancy at the Armory was under 100 people in recent days, from highs of over 200 people during the cold of winter. The Armory was planned to shelter 50 people, but occupancy was never much less than double that. Case managers at the Armory, led by Amos House, have been making referrals to available shelter and housing resources throughout the state for a while now, contributing to the decrease of overnight guests.

“I’ve been homeless a year and a half now,” another man told Uprise RI. He didn’t want to give his name. “I don’t have a place to stay tonight. I’m hoping the CES [coordinated entry system] number can get me a hotel. I’m really hurting right now. I do part time work. I get disability. I’m 63 and I’m struggling. I lost my apartment almost two years ago and I’ve been on the streets ever since. I’ve been at the Armory since it opened.”

Despite the efforts of advocacy groups and the Department of Housing, many people who want shelter will be sleeping outside tonight. Governor Daniel McKee lied when he told reporter Anita Baffoni on Friday that, “We should be able to have shelter for individuals that want it.” There will be many people sleeping in a “place unfit for human habitation” in Rhode Island tonight.

“They don’t care where we go,” said a woman who hopes that her elderly father will let her stay with him tonight, and not lose his apartment in the process. “They should have given people tents if they’re putting people out.”

“Officers are telling me we can’t set up tents in public places,” said a man in response. He has no idea where he will be sleeping tonight.

Details on the additional shelter options for people experiencing homelessness from the Department of Housing:

  • OpenDoors RI is opening a new motel program in Warwick today with 55 rooms.
  • Community Care Alliance will expand shelter operations in hotels with an additional 40 rooms spread among one hotel site in Woonsocket and two hotel sites in North Smithfield. These sites are set to begin accepting new occupants today.
  • Crossroads Rhode Island is adding 10 beds at their facility on Broad Street in Providence starting today.
  • Capacity at Emmanuel House in Providence accounts for a total of 20 currently available beds for individuals.

Not all of these additional resources will be immediately available. Some sites will be phasing in their capacity this week. Because of the way the state’s coordinated entry system (CES) is structured, it’s not the case that all new beds will be allocated to any one category of Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness (such as individuals at the Armory). Further expansions of Rhode Island’s emergency shelter capacity are being pursued on an ongoing basis, such as shelter options in Burrillville for 10 families, and more sites are being explored and considered.

These expansions of shelter opportunities have been pursued in parallel to efforts that have successfully extended seasonal shelters in Westerly, Pawtucket, Smithfield, and Providence. The seasonal shelters and warming stations that remain open include:

  • OpenDoors RI’s warming center in Pawtucket;
  • Catholic Charities at Emmanuel House in Providence;
  • Community Care Alliance’s hotel program in Smithfield;
  • Crossroads Rhode Island’s couples shelter on Hartford Avenue in Providence; and
  • WARM’s expanded capacity in Westerly.

“The gave me a phone number to call, but no guarantees,” said an older woman, wrapped in a sleeping bag on the grass in Dexter Park. “I have no place to stay tonight. I have to find a shelter. There’s supposed to be a Motel Six, but that’s not ready. Even being at the Motel Six in Warwick can be hard. There’s only one bus there. For food there’s a Mobil Station and a Dunkin Donuts. I’m in a wheelchair. My legs have been amputated.”

Only one person Uprise RI talked to this morning had a guaranteed bed tonight.

“Thank God, things turned out for me,” said the man, in his mid-thirties. “I called CES and they got me a bed in my old shelter. All my stuff is still there. Now I just have to go forward and start working, save my money and get myself out of there.”

His friend was not so lucky.

“I don’t have a place to stay. I’m 76 years old,” said Sandra, sitting on the curb outside the Armory. “I’m calling every day. I called yesterday. There were no beds so I’m out on the street. I will call every day because I don’t know where I will sleep tonight. I can try at the Mission but you can’t know if you have a bed there until 4pm.”

Sandra is afraid of taking a bus somewhere, seeking shelter, only to be stuck outside in a strange place with no bus service if it turns out no shelter is available.

According to the most recent numbers from the state’s Homeless Management Information System, there were 305 individuals forced to spend at least one night in a place not meant for human habitation as of the end of April. Many of the people currently spending each night at the Armory may be added to this number starting today.