Letter - Gov. Here's an Idea for a Homeless Shelter

January 19, 2022

The Honorable Daniel J. McKee Governor of Rhode Island

Office of the Governor
82 Smith Street
Providence, RI 02903

State-owned property at 181 Cumberland Street, Woonsocket, RI is uninhabitable and waiting on funding for repairs related to a long-term leaking roof.

Call to Action 

Please contact the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President and let them know that people should not be unhoused and living in uninhabitable places when there is a perfectly good place to house them in this state-owned building in Woonsocket. Thank you!

Governor Daniel J. McKee:  governor@governor.ri.gov
Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi House Speaker
Senator Dominick J. Ruggerio
President of the Senate

Dear Governor McKee,

I watched with interest your State of the State Address last evening. Clearly, you are committed to ending homelessness in Rhode Island. As such, I know that you are aware that this will be a long-term process and will take several years to accomplish. I am writing you today to request that you consider the needs we have experienced in Woonsocket and propose a strategy for how to begin to address this problem.

At the present moment, there are approximately 180 individuals within the city receiving emergency shelter utilizing a combination of dedicated shelter and motel voucher resources. In addition, Community Care Alliance has provided additional shelter resources due to the most recent life threatening temperatures. What makes this situation more complex is that the majority of this population is struggling with serious mental illness and/or opioid addiction, substance use and other significant medical concerns. What we have learned over the course of this winter and last is that we need a more strategic and systematic approach for working with this vulnerable population.

In order to better serve this population, I am advocating that a Community Based Solutions Center for serving the Homeless in Woonsocket be established. What we are proposing is that a State owned property at 181 Cumberland St. be utilized to develop the Center. In previous correspondence, I have brought this site to your attention advocating for its repair. As you may recall, this building was utilized for 40 years and was developed to house Community Mental Health Services in Woonsocket. This site would be ideal as a location for such a center with resources to include:

  • Emergency shelter for up to 16 individuals.
  • A daytime drop-in center that that would be readily available for homeless individuals who typically have no place to go and are in need of other supportive and recovery services (i.e. peer support, case management, naloxone, food, clothing etc.).
  • A specialized behavioral health team trained in evidence based practices whose primary focus would be homelessness, mental illness and addiction treatment services. This team would also assist individuals in reconnecting with their families and other community supports (i.e. friends, recovery community churches etc.).
  • Access to on-site primary medical care delivered by Thundermist Health Center.
  • Access to specialized Opioid Treatment thru CODAC Mobile Care services. CODAC would bring its Mobile Van to this location in order that the population is served in an accessible and efficient manner.
  • Evidence based Vocational and Employment and Training Services to assist individuals in engaging in or returning to the workforce.
  • On-site kitchen services that would provide meals for the emergency shelter and serve as a vocational training site for individuals re-entering the workforce as part of their recovery process.
  • Collaboration with local church, civic and business groups who are invested in supporting this population and addressing their safety and wellness concerns.

While other shelter resources such as motel vouchers will continue to be needed, this Center would serve as a hub supporting the overall homeless population in Woonsocket.  Absent these types of efforts, Emergency Departments, Landmark Medical Center, Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Corrections System could become more stressed than they are at present as places of last resort. Whereas this Center would provide a valuable Public Health resource, it also will contribute to Public Safety thereby reducing the necessity for the Woonsocket Police Department to engage with homeless individuals. This approach recognizes that behavioral health concerns are central to this population and addresses their needs in a more organized and pragmatic manner.

In order to make this strategic opportunity a practical reality, I am requesting that you authorize the repair and restoration of the 181 Cumberland St. property utilizing ARPA funds. Restoration of this site for the purpose I have outlined will bring some much needed relief to the homeless population locally and allow Community Care Alliance to work in a more coordinated manner with State partners (i.e. Commerce/OHCD, BHDDH, RIDOH). Similar to your efforts at Memorial Hospital and with AMOS House, we would work to make this an example of public-private partnership at its best.

I appreciate your consideration.

Benedict F. Lessing, Jr. MSW
CEO, Community Care Alliance

Contact Information

PO Box 1700 | Woonsocket, RI | 02895 | Directions
401.235.7000 Main Agency | 401.235.7120 Emergency

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