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Ground breaks on housing project

Community developers, advocates for victims of domestic abuse team up to provide housing

In a ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation and Sojourner House unveiled a plan for Rhode Island’s first supportive housing project for domestic abuse survivors. 

The pilot program will house three families and is intended to be the first of many such projects, said Jean Lamb, acting executive director of the Smith Hill CDC. The event drew around 40 members of the community, including Democratic candidate for mayor Jorge Elorza, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.

The Smith Hill CDC will own and manage the building, while Sojourner House manages cases and provides programming. The new development will offer residents services like counseling, but these programs are not mandatory, Volz said.

The project, which Lamb said will be ready for occupancy in the spring or summer of 2015, is funded by $150,000 from the Building Homes Rhode Island Fund and $235,000  from Rhode Island Housing, with additional seed money from the United Way of Rhode Island.

Sojourner House, founded primarily by Brown alums and students in 1975, is an advocacy and resource center for domestic violence victims. Current services include a 24-hour help line, temporary shelter and sexual health services.

By partnering together, the Smith Hill CDC and Sojourner House were able to get the project off the ground, said Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House.

The partnership between the Smith Hill CDC and Sojourner House was fitting for this project, Lamb said, due to their similar goals. “We’re both in the neighborhood and both want to provide support and a service to our residents. Why not collaborate?”

In order to maintain and protect the privacy of residents, the ceremony was held at the Smith Hill CDC, rather than at the site of the future apartment complex.

Security is a priority for domestic abuse survivors, said Kathy McCormick, a domestic abuse survivor and member of Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships, who spoke first at the ceremony. McCormick said that even after she left an abusive relationship along with her three children, she was stalked and harassed by her abuser for years.

“I had to hide, moving from place to place and job to job,” she said, adding that all she wanted to do was “rebuild her life” after the ordeal. “As a survivor, I know very well how important these services are,” McCormick said.

Richard Godfrey, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, also spoke at the event. Rhode Island Housing, a long-time partner with the Smith Hill CDC, works with nonprofits to provide homes for a variety of residents with special needs and was the main funding source for the construction of the supportive housing apartments.

The partnership of “domestic violence expertise with community development expertise was a natural marriage, and we were happy to fund it,” Godfrey said. “We would like to do more projects just like this.”

He said McCormick’s speech was a “sobering reminder of how much more we have to do,” adding that men, in particular, need to take a stand against domestic violence. “Too often, we leave it to women to say ‘enough’,” he said.


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