A Warwick hotel is serving as the winter shelter for homeless again, but this year Mayor Frank Picozzi learned about it in advance and doesn’t believe it will become an issue to …
A Warwick hotel is serving as the winter shelter for homeless again, but this year Mayor Frank Picozzi learned about it in advance and doesn’t believe it will become an issue to neighbors.
As of the first of this month, Thrive Behavioral Health entered into a contract with Motel 6 off Jefferson Boulevard to lease 40 rooms through March 30, 2023. Daniel Kubas-Meyer said as of Friday 25 homeless were housed at the hotel and that he expects from 40 to 44 homeless will be sheltered there when fully occupied.
Meanwhile, according to the Rhode Island Coalition for Homelessness, the state is faced with 1,338 homeless. Of that total, 834 are either in an emergency shelter or transitional housing such as Motel 6 and 504 are living outdoors in tents or car.
Margaux Morisseau, deputy director of the coalition, called on state leaders to have empathy for those living in the cold and the political courage to address the situation with temporary deployable units, sometimes referred to as Pallet Houses or tiny houses. The units would provide heated and secure housing where the homeless could sleep and keep their possessions. The issue is where to locate them as they would need ancillary facilities including showers, restrooms and possibly a kitchen.
Morisseau sees deployable housing as a far better use of funding than hotels as the units would be available when needed and a one time investment.
While he has asked, Picozzi said Tuesday he has not heard of a plan to get the homeless out of the cold from the governor’s office or the new Rhode Island Department of Housing other than the use of Motel 6 and Pallet Houses at the Pastore Center. The Beacon was unsuccessful in its efforts to contact Josh Saal, director of the Office of Housing.
The proposal for Pallet Houses at the center has met opposition from Cranston residents and the Cranston City Council.
Morisseau said of state and local leaders, “If they don’t make brave decisions, we know people are going to die outside.”
It wasn’t until police started responding to complaints last year from Pontiac residents and the Warwick Mall that the administration learned Crossroads Rhode Island had entered into a Federal Emergency Management Agency funded contract with the state to lease 150 rooms as a winter homeless shelter. Complaints centered on people loitering in the residential neighborhood, disappearance of items, an increase in panhandlers, a case of prostitution and overdoses. NYLO was also used to house homeless during the pandemic in 2020.
NYLO not an option
Situated in a commercial area and housing fewer homeless than what NYLO had last year, Picozzi sees Motel 6 as a good fit in seeking to find winter shelter for the estimated 400 people statewide living on the street. NYLO was not an option this year. Karen Santilli, CEO of Crossroads, said last year the agency would not seek to contract with the hotel as a winter shelter site.
Kubas-Meyer described finding housing for the homeless “a nightmare.”
“The problem is that there’s a lack of units,” he said. It’s not just a lack of affordable housing either. Kubas-Meyer said 80 individuals and or families that he’s aware of have rental vouchers providing payments but the units aren’t available.
“The problem is getting worse and worse,” Kubas-Meyer said.
He said one of two buildings at Motel 6 is being used for the homeless. The homeless have individual rooms and be provided three meals a day from service that Thrive has contracted. There is no common meeting area at the motel, so the meals will be delivered to each room.
Linen service and a full cleaning of the rooms will be done once a week, Kubas-Meyer said. Thrive will also be working with motel tenants to find more long term housing as well as addressing personal issues and treatment.
Kubas-Meyer said housing has proven to be the key to addressing many of the issues faced by homeless from alcoholism and drug abuse to repeated interactions with the criminal justice system. Under the Housing First program initiated seven years ago in West Warwick, Kubas-Meyer said 50 homeless who wouldn’t have been eligible for permanent housing because of their history or condition, were placed in housing. Of the 50, Kubas-Meyer said, 83 percent were still in the units and had turned their lives around.
Kubas-Meyer said placements at Motel 6 are handled by a coordinated entry system managed by the state Office of Housing. The Office of Housing sought proposals to provide winter homeless shelter in September, which Kubas-Meyer said gave Thrive the time to put together a program. He said that wasn’t the case last year when the state hurriedly sought to address the issue. Kubas-Meyer didn’t have a precise number. He placed the Thrive contract with Motel 6 plus the cost of meals through March of 2023 at about $800,000. Under the contract there is the provision to extend the agreement through April if requested by the state.
Kubas-Meyer said the state has taken a “more proactive “approach to dealing with the homeless this year. He expects most of the motel tenants will be people from Kent County.
“These folks really have no other alternative, no option but the street. For the most part people are grateful they are housed,” he said.
According to a September press release issued by the governor’s off, the state awarded six community organizations a total of $3.5 million to add 231 new beds to the statewide homeless shelter capacity.
This $3.5 million was termed the first round of awards from a $5 million solicitation for proposals related to shelter expansion that was distributed to qualified vendors in early September.
In addition to an award of $827,103 to Thrive the following agencies and amounts awarded was announced: Amos House Family Shelter (Pawtucket): $1,338,655; Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center (Central Falls): $966,870; Catholic Social Services of Rhode Island (Providence): $20,000; Sojourner House (Providence): $180,899 and Westerly Area Rest Meals (WARM) Center (Westerly): $220,103.
The release did not disclose how the housing would be provided and if other hotels would be used.
In response to questions about the Motel 6 contract, Col. Bradford Connor said, “We have been in close contact with Thrive since the beginning of this project. I think this coordinated effort is a great way to provide temporary housing for the unhoused; especially with the cold weather upon us. So far we have not seen an upswing in calls for service at Motel 6. At this point we do not have any concerns and believe this is a valuable program that will hopefully lead to these individuals receiving additional services to get them on their way to permanent housing.”