By Meg O’Neil
As temperatures dipped into the single digits on Tuesday, Jan.22, representatives from several local agencies met inside the Community Baptist Church to provide an update on efforts being made to address the problem of chronic homelessness in Newport.
The meeting, sponsored by Newport County Citizens to End Homelessness, stressed the importance of getting families and individuals off of Newport streets, especially during the cold winter months, and into shelters and permanent housing.
During the meeting, representatives from Lucy’s Hearth, Housing Hotline, Housing First, Turning Around Ministries, Housing First-RI, and the McKinney Shelter shared information on how their programs have operated on limited funds and resources despite a growing need for their services. The agencies depend on volunteers and donations to do their work.
Lucy’s Hearth program director Jennifer Barrera spoke about the Middletown shelter, which serves mothers and their children. Last year, the shelter served 135 people in 50 families, a 20 percent increase from the prior year.
Lucy’s is currently expanding, adding a large family room to its present total of nine rooms available for emergency use by families. It also has four transitional apartments in the community. Lucy’s Hearth used to have a waiting list of 64 families, but improved coordination efforts by the state have helped to reduce that number, Barrera said.
“Our goal is to immediately address the crisis,” Barrera said. “We start to build the successful parts of their life … so when these women transition, they have stability and resources within the community. We’ve seen an uptick in the numbers of families coming to the shelter, but they are realizing quite a bit of successes.”
Lucy’s Hearth is always seeking volunteers. Barrera said the agency holds a volunteer orientation once a month and has a flexible schedule. “Anyone can come and do anything they feel passionately about,” she said. “Scrapbook? Moms love to do that. Cook? Garden? They thrive on that. Even if it’s just coming and reading to the kids. Anything at all is really helpful.”
Police officer Jimmy Winters reported on the Housing Hotline, an emergency shelter resource for any person found living on the streets. Winters began his presentation by showing photographs taken last week of a person sleeping under the steps of Newport City Hall.
Winters said there are currently 20 to 50 individuals who are considered chronically homeless. Last week, he received a call that a pregnant woman and her three children were living in the back of a U-Haul truck. The Housing Hotline put the family into a motel until they can locate a more permanent housing situation for them. Since November, the Housing Hotline has helped place 50 families and individuals.
Winters said the Housing Hotline typically places homeless people in a motel for a week. “Right now, we get a fairly good motel rate through March, but then that price starts to increase,” he said. “By the summer, it could cost us $200 a night for a motel room.”
The Housing Hotline subsists on small grants, the largest being a Small Cities Grant of $18,000.
Turning Around Ministries (TAM), which mainly provides services for previously incarcerated residents and homeless, has seen a “steady increase” in the amount of people it services, according to chairperson Cheryl Robinson. The agency relies mainly on volunteers and two part-time employees. Last year, it served 111 clients through job readiness programs, Department of Labor and Training workshops, assisting clients to get their birth certificates, and more. “You name it, we do it,” Robinson said. TAM recently extended their hours from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. to 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. “That way, if the homeless need a place to go, we’re here,” Robinson said.
With job placement as a main goal, Robinson said TAM is especially seeking local business owners who would be willing to hire TAM clients. Because of the clients’ criminal backgrounds, it is often very difficult to find employment, she explained. Not only is TAM seeking business owners, but also volunteers just to be a listening ear. “Sometimes people just want to talk,” she said. “They just need to know that somebody cares. That’s what we’re here for.”
Steve Ostiguy, executive director of the Church Community Housing Corp., spoke briefly on the emergency transitional housing provided by the McKinney Shelter in Washington Square. With 19 beds for men, six for women, six transitional beds for men, and four transitional beds for women, the shelter frequently is full, he said.