By JOHN HOWELL One hundred and forty people, who would otherwise be living on the street, have rooms at the NYLO Hotel in Pontiac. They and possibly more are guaranteed a room until March 31, 2022. Neither the neighborhood nor the city had any say on
One hundred and forty people, who would otherwise be living on the street, have rooms at the NYLO Hotel in Pontiac. They and possibly more are guaranteed a room until March 31, 2022.
Neither the neighborhood nor the city had any say on the state administration’s decision to contract Crossroads Rhode Island to use the hotel as a winter residence for homeless. In fact, Mayor Frank Picozzi said Saturday, he knew nothing about it until notified by the police and that only came to their attention because of an incident.
The failure to notify the city was also on the top of Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi’s list. Sinapi learned of the development from the mayor. It wasn’t long before the neighborhood and the Pontiac Village Neighborhood Association was onto the news, too.
But Karen Santilli, Crossroads president and CEO, does not view NYLO as permanent housing. Rather, she sees the hotel as a step in a program to find permanent housing for those who are now on the street. The fact that so many homeless are housed in a single location enables Crossroads to concentrate its efforts. It’s already proven successful with the placement of two individuals in long-term housing.
“No one should have to live in a hotel or shelter,” Santilli said in an interview Monday. “We’re glad to have them (homeless) here and in a safe place.”
Responding to an email, Col. Bradford Connor, chief of Warwick Police, said Tuesday, “We are looking forward to the relationship with Crossroads and NYLO staff. Our Community Police Officers have open lines of communication with them so that we can work to solve problems before they happen. We did experience an uptick in calls for service last spring when the Amos House was at NYLO; which was highlighted by the B&E in the neighborhood which received media attention. Last week we had around 20 logged calls for service for the hotel, however 17 of those calls were self-initiated directed patrols conducted by our officers.”
Connor said the department outreach team “has done tremendous work to get our homeless population off of the street and out of tent cities.”
“While the NYLO hotel might not be considered an ideal location by some, it does provide an opportunity for housing for our homeless population particularly as we head into the winter months,” Connor said.
Under the program funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Crossroads has a 24/7 presence at the hotel. Tenants are separated by gender by floor with the exception of couples. No children are being housed at the hotel and all tenants are 18 years old or older. A hot meal prepared by Amos House is provided daily. Tenants are responsible for their own laundry with the exception of sheets and towels that are changed weekly. Included in regulations is an 11 p.m. curfew that Crossroads is in the process of reviewing at the request of the Pontiac Association. Vaccinations are not required of tenants. A vaccination clinic is planned for NYLO and Santilli is looking to have tenants fully vaccinated.
Management of NYLO for the homeless is not a first for Crossroads.
Santilli explained that when the governor shutdown the state in March 2020, NYLO was considered a means of distancing homeless, as compared to open shelters such as Harrington Hall. Crossroads ran the program through July when funding for congregate shelters ceased. The state looked for Crossroads to reopen that fall. It didn’t happen in 2020.
“We didn’t have the staff to run all our existing shelters,” Santilli said.
Amos House took over the NYLO program and operated it until NYLO converted back to a hotel. With the fall of 2021, NYLO was again available as a shelter and Crossroads took on the contract.
Since Nov. 1 when Crossroads started operation, Sinapi said police have responded to a domestic call and an overdose. He has received a call from a resident who is fearful for his children and is now walking them to their bus stop because of people loitering along the route.
Sinapi said he will be talking with the School Department on the feasibility of having the stop relocated in front of the man’s home.
This is not the first experience residents and the city have had with the housing of homeless at NYLO, which according to reports is thus far going better than it did last year.
Last year at least two burglaries, an unknown number of overdoses and a case of prostitution were tied to NYLO tenants. After having been housed for the winter at the hotel many of the winter tenants stayed in the area with a corresponding increase of panhandlers on the major intersections in and around both malls and the Route 2 retail corridor.
Homeless have also pitched tents in the Route 2 divider under the Route 295 overpass and in the woods bordering the Pawtuxet River in East Natick.
Santilli said those people are now housed at NYLO.
The lesson learned from last year, said Sinapi, is for residents to contact police when they learn of or see a situation that demands attention.
“Call … call … call,” said Sinapi.
For whatever reason, even in cases where strangers were seen going on to private property, people didn’t report it to police and it got out of hand, Sinapi said.
Patricia Picinich, president of the Pontiac Village Neighborhood Association, said Tuesday that members raised concerns over the 11 p.m. curfew, suggesting that it be earlier. From a personal perspective, Picinich is optimistic that Crossroads has the contract as they did a good job of running the hotel as a shelter when the pandemic first hit and that they are “well respected and the oldest (shelter operator) in the state … they do a good job.”
Picinich is likewise impressed by Warwick Police and their efforts in dealing with homeless and balancing that with community concerns.
“If my child was in that position (being on the street) I would want someone to provide a home for them,” she said
“It doesn’t help to keep people on the street,” she said.
Picinich said homelessness can lead to desperation and that can lead to crime.
“We definitely need to give them (homeless) a chance,” she said.
While she wasn’t able to attend the association meeting, state Sen. Kendra Anderson (District 31, Warwick) issued a statement after being asked of her opinion about the use of NYLO as a shelter.
“For so long states and local governments have not had the funding to provide folks with stable housing,” Anderson said. “Now with the large sums we’ve received from the federal government, it's imperative that all those working on housing issues come together and create a comprehensive plan addressing the different stages of houselessness and its causes. It's time we seriously address lack of affordable housing (and public housing), poverty, mental illness, and substance dependency. As that plan is being developed as a temporary measure this winter, we must find housing for folks in hotels, find land for House of Hope’s micro houses and other creative solutions so that no one dies because they have nowhere safe to sleep.”
Offering a bigger picture on homelessness, Angelina Deomme, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homeless, said the volume of homeless is “unprecedented at the moment, we have never seen these levels” of sheltered homeless and unsheltered homeless (people living out of cars, in tents, on the street or bouncing between friends’ homes).
She said the pandemic has closed doors to some homeless who could turn to relatives or friends. In addition, with the pandemic jobs disappeared, wages stagnated and housing prices and rents shot up.
Deomme said the state’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, if you can find it, is $1,600 a month, “which is crazy.”
“There’s not enough affordable housing,” she said. She reported the statewide-unsheltered count for Nov. 14 to Nov. 27 was 268. This compares to 181 unsheltered for the full month of January 2021 and 108 for pre-pandemic month of January 2020.
As for what’s happening in Pontiac, Deomme said, “These are our fellow neighbors. They’re not strangers. They just didn’t win the privileged lottery.”
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