House of Hope creating temporary shelters for city’s homeless

House of Hope creating temporary shelters for city’s homeless

An example of the Pallet Shelters proposed for Pawtucket as temporary places for the city's homeless residents to stay.

PAWTUCKET – Advocates for the homeless in the city say they are making headway toward their goal of providing better solutions to a growing problem.

Laura Jaworski, executive director of House of Hope CDC, said this week that the agency is working out final details of the proposed ECHO Village, which stands for Emergency COVID Housing Opportunities, a temporary shelter situation for Pawtucket during the pandemic.

House of Hope has now received 10 temporary structures, and will be putting one together for the purposes of bringing awareness and fundraising to the cause of helping the homeless. The goal, said Jaworski, is to be able to house up to 100 people in Pawtucket on an emergency basis and in their own little compartments. Advocates really see this as an 18-month solution, she said, and are also looking at longer-term solutions for tiny houses as more permanent homes for homeless people.

“It’s not the solution, but a solution,” she said. “We’re working with Mayor Grebien’s office to try and get this one step closer to the finish line.”

The personal shelters from Pallet Shelter are meant as disaster response units, with the Washington-based company partnering with more and more communities to address the issue of homelessness. The units can be built and taken apart quickly, said Jaworski, and are cheaper than a more permanent structure.

The structures, she said, create safe spaces for homeless people, allowing them to secure their all-important possessions in a way that’s impossible at typical encampments. They also provide a place to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, as well as space in which to decompress in a way that they wouldn’t be able to do in a large gym or open-air space with 100 other people.

The cost for the temporary housing units ranges from $4,900 to $7,000, with different components available for purchase and varying sleeping capacities. Being able to house 100 people will make a significant dent in the short-term crisis, said Jaworski.

According to the Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, 1,104 people were homeless in the state as of the night of Jan. 22, including 226 experiencing chronic homelessness. Those needing immediate shelter are urged to call 401-277-4316.

The Breeze previously reported on efforts to help the growing number of homeless people in Pawtucket, particularly during a snowstorm in December. It’s a situation growing worse because of the lack of temporary emergency shelters being open during the pandemic.

Jaworski said there’s a tendency among many people to think that nothing is being done when they come across the kind of encampments being seen in Pawtucket. Some forget that people ultimately have a choice about their own lives, she said, but that doesn’t mean advocates will stop trying to help.

Is the system messed up? Are there not enough resources? Absolutely, said Jaworski, but good people “are doing our darndest” to get people what they need, and it’s gone way beyond just that snowstorm.

“We’re frustrated too,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to show up for people literally and figuratively.”

House of Hope’s mobile shower program is always out there in all conditions, she said, and staff are always trying to connect people with the right resources.

The Valley Breeze is committed to keeping quality news stories like this one free to our readers. You can be a huge part of this local journalism success story by making a one-time or monthly contribution to what we do every week. Thank you as always for reading.

Advocates aren’t necessarily seeing a huge increase of homeless people because they’ve been evicted or lost income, she said, but a lack of shelter beds due to COVID-19 restrictions has pushed many more homeless people to the streets. Many people are afraid to come inside because of their added fear about the pandemic, she said, in addition to their own traumatic histories or medical conditions. People tend to seek out space and establish communities with others they’re comfortable with, she told The Breeze, which is what you’ll see with a tent encampment.

The ongoing wintertime crisis really came into focus last August when anxiety began to build about the lack of beds, said Jaworski. The effort to create the ECHO Village was gaining steam, she said, funded through the R.I. Foundation and other partners. The goal, she said, is to not only have the shelters, but on-site supportive services and personnel around the clock, connecting people with resources to ultimately get them into more permanent housing. In a perfect world, said Jaworski, everyone would get housing and “we all go home,” with the temporary structures saved for another potential disaster in the future.

Carlos Lopez Estrada, of Mayor Donald Grebien’s office, previously said that in the first quarter of 2020, the city began partnering with House of Hope and the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development on the ECHO Village project. After committing funds and negotiating with the owner of a private property, the city and House of Hope learned on Dec. 1 that the specifications would not be accepted by state code inspectors, stopping the project, he said then.

The unintended consequence of the late decision was that solutions once again became reactionary and only focused on short-term options, he said.

Despite that setback, workers continued to do everything possible to get every person into temporary shelter and provide them with social and emotional support, said Lopez Estrada.

President Joe Biden has made some beneficial changes in his first few days in office, Jaworski said, including extending an eviction moratorium and banning discrimination at shelters. She said she’s “incredibly hopeful and optimistic” about further steps.

If COVID-19 hasn’t illuminated how desperate people are and how much they need help, and how much society needs to give, nothing will, said Jaworski. Advocates continue to do amazing work, she said, with outreach teams acting as public health workers and elevating the needs of people on the streets with efforts as helping them keep themselves clean amid closures, but the support systems are strained to the max.

House of Hope is also working on a more permanent plan for tiny houses for the homeless. That longer-term project is dubbed Kintsugi Park, named after the Japanese art form that binds broken pottery with gold or silver. The idea is that in repair, the piece becomes more beautiful. With homelessness, people come with all sorts of trauma and other hurts, said Jaworski, and instead of looking down on them, others should be looking for ways to build them up and treasure them.

There are currently no resources in place to take Kintsugi Park beyond the initial conceptual stage.

House of Hope continues to work with other groups to get homeless the items they need to get through the winter season, including tarps and pallets, if they choose not to go to an emergency shelter, said Jaworski.

“It starts for us with, ‘are you OK and how can we help you,’” she said.