PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — As Rhode Island’s homeless population continues to grow, state leaders are taking steps to get more people in a warm bed this winter.

Gov. Dan McKee laid out plans Thursday to increase the state’s emergency shelter capacity, which includes utilizing the former Memorial Hospital site in Pawtucket.

“It is crucial that we provide shelter to get Rhode Islanders off the streets now,” McKee said. “Addressing this crisis requires a combination of short-term and long-term initiatives, and today’s announcement is an immediate and necessary step to help those experiencing homelessness.”

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The event was held at the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, which tells 12 News that 361 people were known to be unsheltered between Nov. 21 and Dec. 4.

Through a $5 million investment in the state’s homelessness service providers, around 220 emergency beds were added at shelters and hotels over the past few weeks, according to McKee.

“But we knew more was needed,” he added.

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He announced Thursday that an additional 130 beds will be coming to four communities:

  • Pawtucket: Amos House will open a non-congregate shelter program at the former Memorial Hospital building with up to 80 beds. The state anticipates families will be able to move in starting next week.
  • East Providence: House of Hope is adding up to 25 beds at area motels.
  • Providence: Open Doors has added 15 more beds that are available as of this week.
  • Woonsocket: Community Care Alliance has agreed to add up to 10 hotel vouchers in the city starting this week.

In addition, McKee said a new 20-bed quarantine and isolation facility is opening in Providence to serve housing insecure individuals and families who have tested positive for COVID-19.

While those are mainly short-term solutions, McKee also discussed plans to address the housing issue in the long term, including $31 million in funding for 23 new housing projects in 13 cities and towns through the Building Homes Rhode Island program, which he said would preserve or create 600 affordable housing units.

McKee also noted that Rhode Island Rebounds, his initial proposal for using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, includes $29 million for affordable housing. The General Assembly is expected to take up the proposal next month.

In the meantime, a “sleepout” protest to draw attention to the homelessness problem at the State House will come to an end with Thursday’s announcement, but organizers said this is only just the beginning.

“We need more affordable and low-income housing. We need a living wage. We need people to be able to afford their food and health care,” state Sen. Cynthia Mendes said. “In order to get these things, we need a lot more than people sleeping outside of the state house begging for action. We need elected leaders who actually care about the people of the state.”

The East Providence Democrat, who’s running for lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, said “no one should have ever had to do this in the first place,” in reference to the demonstration, which began more than two weeks ago.

“We can not allow people to be without options for shelter heading into winter ever again,” Mendes added.

The protestors said they believe it’s no coincidence that McKee’s announcement came after dozens of people joined their demonstration, but when asked about it Thursday, the governor said there was a lot more to it.

“It is very presumptive for any one group to say they are driving the issue, especially when with all of the hard work that’s in this room,” he said. “We are willing to work with anyone who is willing to do the work.”