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Controversy surrounds homeless shelter expansion

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Harrington Hall in Cranston is home to the largest men’s homeless shelter in Rhode Island, a state that saw its rates of foreclosure grow dramatically during the recent recession. A swirl of legislative and social controversy arose in October, when Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 made the executive decision to leave the shelter in its current location and to pay for building renovations. For the past year, overcrowding and strained facilities have prompted discussions about a potential move.
Originally opened as a temporary shelter, Harrington Hall was never meant to be a permanent fixture in the community. But as times grew hard through the economic downturn and more people spiraled into homelessness, the hall was never closed, said Leonard Chen ’13, community fellow at Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, a Swearer Center for Public Service program that runs a range of services for the homeless community. There is a general consensus that something needs to be done – either the shelter must be relocated, or the hall needs to be fixed up.
Some town residents who have long opposed the shelter’s move are pleased with Chafee’s decision, but others would still like to see the shelter moved far away from the town’s center. Suzanne Arena, a community advocate and activist, as well as mother to children who go to school in the area, said she and other community members are concerned about the potential threat posed by the five to ten registered sex offenders housed by Harrington Hall.
“My goal has always been to have sex offenders not in the same shelter as the homeless people,” Arena said. Sex offenders had been sighted at the local library, she said, a source of concern for the safety of the area. “The shelter should be relocated, but not to a highly trafficked area.”
But Chen said he disagrees. HOPE first got involved with the Harrington Hall situation this year and advocates a move to the Gloria McDonald Building, a former women’s prison in Cranston that was recently emptied, he said.
“The argument’s going to exist everywhere – people are going to say ‘not in my backyard’,” he said, regarding concerns about sex offenders. “There are a lot more unsupervised registered sex offenders living in Cranston, who outnumber (those) living in the shelter. If we have this new facility and run programs with services for these sex offenders, we can know what they’re doing, monitor their activity, which is a lot safer than the current situation.”
Despite their differences, Chen and Arena both deplore the governor’s recent decision, calling it a band-aid solution.
A representative for the governor could not be reached for comment.
Renovations are going to cost the state much more than relocation would, Chen said, describing the choice to keep Harrington Hall as “maintaining a broken system.” There are currently no emergency response, detox or medical services at the overcrowded shelter and cold weather is rapidly approaching, he said.
“The number of people who need services is fast outgrowing the resources we have,”  he added.  
“If you are going to have a homeless shelter, you need to provide some kind of programs,” Arena said, referring to the lack of rehabilitation or detox treatments at the current facility. “We have to be able to live together,” she added.
HOPE is currently canvassing around the Cranston region to seek resident opinions on a potential move to the Gloria McDonald building to spread information on the issue and to form a petition, Chen said.
“Most of the people living in Cranston don’t know the full facts,” Chen added.

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  1. Suzanne Arena says:

    Thank you Sophia for educating the public. You should also know there is a high percentage of mentally ill patients among the homeless shelter.

    • MissManners says:

      You’re just like everyone else. Why not just go pseudo-Nazi and place all the homeless people in concentration camps and kill them. Or better yet, grind them up and sell them to supermarkets and call them “Grade F” meat. It’s a shame with the “not in my backyard” attitudes. Homeless people don’task to be homeless just like kids ddon’t ask to be born. It’s easy for a middle class white person to score a job but for a homeless minority the chances are shot to hell.

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