PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Fundraising efforts are underway to help 30 families displaced from a shelter after a sprinkler malfunction caused the building to be deemed uninhabitable.
The Amos House Family Shelter, which occupies a portion of the former Memorial Hospital campus in Pawtucket, sustained heavy water damage, forcing the power to be cut and the families to be moved to hotels.
The incident happened on Friday, Nov. 18, nearly a week before Thanksgiving. The city’s fire marshal, Capt. David Marshall, said it was an emotional scene.
“To see the fright and the uncertainty on the face of these families, who are already battling so many challenges that most of us can’t even relate to, to know that now they have to vacate what is a temporary home and not be able to take really any of their belongings with them,” Marshall said.
Recognizing the hardship, Marshall and members of Pawtucket Firefighters Local 1261 decided to start a fundraiser with monetary donations, but it quickly evolved into a holiday gift drive.
The union teamed up with the Hotel for Homeless Dogs Humane Society in Cumberland, where Executive Director Susan Joseph said they are also hoping to fill the gaps and acquire donations of adult winter clothing and household essentials.
“Jackets and winter coats – new with tags – are the biggest thing that we’re looking for, anywhere from small up to 3X,” Joseph said. “I think that might be one of the most challenging gaps that we’re going to have to fill.”
Marshall and Joseph created an online wishlist as well as a Fundrazr site to accept monetary donations. Donations are being collected until December 16 and can be dropped off at the Hotel for Homeless Dogs or at GLG Athletic Performance in Cumberland.
Eileen Hayes, President and CEO of Amos House, told 12 News three families have already been housed and four more are on their way to receiving housing before the new year.
She said work is being done to open another part of Memorial Hospital as a family shelter, but it won’t be operational until after the new year.
“These things are complicated. We need fire code approval, we need building inspection, we need electrical approvals. All of this is in the works right now,” Hayes explained.
“We originally were in the process of looking for another part of the hospital to expand from the 30 families to 60 families, and all of this has now delayed that as well,” Hayes added. “So our hope is eventually to be able to get to the place where we can take in even more families because there are that many families in need.”
Hayes said some of the families had been in the shelter since December 2021, and finding housing has been dependent on a myriad of issues, like the availability of vouchers, rental assistance, or finding an affordable unit.
She also said that beyond fundraising efforts related to this incident, Amos House is looking to set up a fund to help individuals or families when they move into apartments to get the basics to outfit their homes.
“Many of the folks don’t have any kitchen equipment, they don’t have the basics we all need when we first move into our home,” Hayes said.
Amos House has taken additional families into the Extended Stay in Warwick, according to Hayes.
“We have up to 30 families back again as we’ve been placing people. There’s a whole list of folks. I think there’s 50-plus families on the waiting list to get into shelter because we just don’t have shelter,” Hayes said.
“We have a crisis of housing across the state and we need a multi-pronged approach to solutions,” she continued. “We need transitional shelter as we build permanent housing.”
“We don’t have enough housing and in the last year, couple years, especially, the price of rental units has just devastated families. They can’t keep up with the rent,” Hayes added.
Hayes said a rental assistance program at Amos House is getting anywhere from 30 to 40 calls a day, with people facing five-day demand notices, behind in rent and unable to find the money to pay up. She said with no rent control in the state, there is no protection for families living paycheck to paycheck.
“I think what we’re working with the state on is temporary solutions that give us a transition plan to more permanent housing,” Hayes said.