PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A 24-hour warming station inside the Cranston Street Armory will open this Friday, Gov. Dan McKee’s office announced Wednesday, as his administration continues a legal fight over an encampment of homeless people outside the State House.
McKee has activated up to 50 members of the Rhode Island National Guard to help run the shelter alongside the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals.
McKee announced late last month that the armory would be used to provide short-term housing for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. The state has since been working to get it up and running by setting up 50 cots and delivering blankets, water, and portable bathrooms.
In addition to the sleeping area in the ballroom, the shelter also features a medical facility, a cafeteria/gathering space, and an office where provider services will be available.
As of Wednesday, the state hadn’t announced a vendor to operate the shelter, but McKee told 12 News there will be one by the time the shelter opens on Friday. The governor toured the facility Wednesday afternoon.
Watch: A look inside the Cranston Street Armory shelter (story continues below)
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the local chapter of the ACLU and the Rhode Island Center for Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the roughly two dozen homeless individuals living in tents outside the State House. They’re protesting what they say is a lack of adequate housing and shelter in the state, and the lawsuit alleges that an attempt by the McKee administration to remove from the grounds infringes upon their rights.
McKee’s staff handed out notices last Wednesday saying the homeless individuals must leave the premises by Friday, but a judge’s decision allowed them to remain for the time being. The governor’s office said every person in the encampment was offered shelter, transportation, and a place to store their belongings.
“As we were prepared to show the court today, those camping outside the State House have been offered shelter beds,” McKee spokesperson Andrea Palagi said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of those who were offered shelter have accepted and been placed. Our team will continue to conduct outreach to the few who have declined emergency shelter beds that have been offered.”
That was rebutted by one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who said not everyone in the encampment was offered shelter. The attorneys who filed the complaint also claimed the number of unhoused Rhode Islanders is often higher than the number of shelter beds available.
When asked Tuesday whether a bed would be available for every member of the encampment were they to be evicted from the property, Housing Secretary Josh Saal told 12 News: “We are trying our best, and we will continue to try our hardest to do that.”
McKee’s office said the Cranston Street shelter opening is just one step it’s taking to address homelessness in the state. Others include making $166 million in funding available for affordable housing efforts, directing another $1.4 million to increase the shelter capacity to more than 1,000 beds, and expanding legal services available to low-income households.
“As we were prepared to show the court today, those camping outside the State House have been offered shelter beds,” McKee said in a statement Wednesday. “The overwhelming majority of those who were offered shelter have accepted and been placed. Our team will continue to conduct outreach to the few who have declined emergency shelter beds that have been offered.”
His office also shared an affidavit filed by Joseph Lindstrom, who the administration hired last month as chief of program development, laying out officials’ efforts to find shelter for the individuals who’d been sleeping outside the State House.
McKee on Wednesday also addressed a letter sent to the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness from Kevin Aucoin, acting director of the R.I. Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). In it, he expresses concerns about reports of parents and children living in encampments around the state.
“We’re in search of the 80 encampments. We’re in search of the kids that were outside that we don’t know where they are,” McKee said. “That’s really an important piece.”
Aucoin wrote that the DCYF is prepared to give shelter and support to families experiencing homelessness.
“We cannot ignore the peril of children and parents residing in encampment areas and/or in vehicles,” Aucoin added. “Allowing any child to be exposed to the harsh weather elements at this time of year directly impacts on the safety and well-being of the child and the parent.”
Aucoin asked the coalition to refer those families to the DCYF for support and assistance.
Alexandra Leslie contributed to this report.