LETTER: ‘Structures are clearly closer to barns than housing’

Richard R. Fascia
Posted 5/1/24

I took the time to personally visit the so-called pallet village, on Victor Street in Providence. I can’t help but come to the conclusion; the same people who contrived this idea may also be …

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LETTER: ‘Structures are clearly closer to barns than housing’


I took the time to personally visit the so-called pallet village, on Victor Street in Providence. I can’t help but come to the conclusion; the same people who contrived this idea may also be responsible for the issues with the Washington Bridge. Having worked in the homeless industry for 10 years (yes it is an industry) one can immediately understand,  this project is totally inappropriate for homeless people or anyone to live in. These structures are clearly closer to barns than housing. There is no electricity, no running water, no heat, and no toilet facilities. People will be forced to walk across the compound to use a port-a-john. I’m sure they’ll all be more than eager to do that at 2 a.m. These cheaply constructed sheds in no way meet any form of building code that I’m aware of. No legitimate housing, permanent or temporary, would or should ever get a certificate of occupancy under these circumstances.

More than inappropriate, this project is disrespectful. My former boss once told me, “I would never ask anyone to live someplace I wouldn’t live in myself.” One of the few things we agreed on. The homeless are human beings and although their circumstances are often as a result of their own doing, often not, they are nonetheless human beings. Housing them in much the same way as farm animals is repugnant.

Additionally, this very site where these hovels are sitting is under investigation by the RI DEM. It seems the area may be a health hazard. I presume because of pollutants in the soil. I was born and brought up in that area of Providence and can remember it as the location of a rail yard roundhouse. Operated by the New Haven and Worcester Railroads (I believe), locomotives would pull into the site and then be mechanically turned 180 degrees to the opposite direction. I distinctly remember the smell of diesel fumes, when my father would drive by with us in the car, as well as the soot-stained walls and what appeared to be oil soaked ground all around it. One could see all this from Rt. 95 as well as Admiral Street, it was that obvious.  When Rt. 146 and Rt. 95 were ultimately connected, the walls were torn down and the area was covered over with dirt, but little more. One can only imagine what contaminants remain behind. Did no one take any of this into consideration?

The idea that the State would invest $3.3 million into a shanty town boggles the mind. And still, I can't help but wonder how this collection of shacks totals three-plus million dollars. Curious. Yet another knee-jerk reaction on the part of the State to a much larger problem. These sheds look like something one would buy at Home Depot. This money could have been put to far better use in combating the homeless problem through proven programs such as Housing First, Street Outreach, overnight and long-term shelter housing or something original and creative. That amount of money could buy a lot of dignified housing befitting people instead of livestock. Once again, ill-conceived and poorly executed.

The Governor is proposing a $17 million permanent budget amendment to combat homelessness, funded by a tax raise on hotel rooms. Just what the tourism industry needs. When in doubt, raise taxes. Make no mistake, he’ll get his money but how will it be spent? Fiscal prudence is not something that usually enters the equation in matters such as this. Guaranteed, the numerous grants that will be written, all wanting a piece of the pie, will be replete with “Administrative Fees.” Those fees lead to hefty raises for the leaders of the various non-profits in the homeless industry. What trickles down may very likely turn into shacks and barns.

You may ask, what does all this have to do with Johnston or Cranston or anyplace else in Rhode Island? Quite simply, it could happen here. The issue of homelessness is expanding at an alarming rate, just look at what's happened in California, New York or Chicago and all across the country. Eventually the problem will spread to the suburbs. With the recent passage of legislation designed to fast-track pretty much any form of new housing (with little or no oversight or approval) we may be looking at this or something like it in our own backyard, sooner rather than later. In closing, be aware, get involved and let your voice be heard, now and at the ballot box.

Richard R. Fascia, of Johnston

Member of the Johnston Republican Town Committee (JRTC)


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