If you think all the snow and wind this week was an inconvenience on your life, think of what it was like for homeless Rhode Islanders.
“Just about everyone was in a shelter,” said Barbara Kalil, an outreach worker for the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project.
On Monday evening, between 5 and 8pm, just as the winds were starting to pick up, Kalil and others scoured downtown Providence and the South Side one more time, looking for people still on the streets. She found five, and got them into shelters. But it’s safe to assume not everyone in Rhode Island made it into a shelter.
John Freitas, also an outreach worker and Kalil’s husband, said he knew of a small group of men on Cranston Street who planned to stay in their tents through the winter storm. “I hope they went in when the wind started to really blow,” Freitas said. “A lot of them had tried the shelter system and it just didn’t work for them.”
The shelters were willing to take anyone and everyone who needed a warm, safe, dry spot to spend the storm. Even people who had previously been banned from shelters were allowed to stay on Monday night, no questions asked, said Karen Santilli, spokeswoman for Crossroads RI.
“We would not turn anyone away,” she said.
Crossroads RI typically provides shelter for 61 people – 41 in the women’s shelter and another 10 men and 10 women. But on Monday night through Wednesday morning, there were 85 people. Some 25 people slept on the community room floor. A family came in Monday night, as did a man whose car broke down after being discharged from the hospital.
“Things went well,” said Santilli. “Uneventful, which is how we like them.”
Harrington Hall, which has 120 beds, housed 124 people – plus six employees – for the duration of the storm.
Just last week, there were more than 140 men sharing the 120 beds at Harrington Hall. But because Providence shelters – such as Crossroads, Emmanuel House and the Providence Rescue Mission – were offering extra space, the load was actually lightened on the state-funded shelter in Cranston.
“It wasn’t our busiest night,” said Jean Johnson, the executive director of House of Hope, which runs Harrington Hall. “It was actually very calm. People watched TV, played cards, played chess. Everyone was really cooperative.”
The Seamen’s Church Institute in Newport, a day shelter, stayed open through the storm to accommodate the extra need for beds in the City-by-the-Sea. More than 20 people stayed for two nights, said superintendent Michelle Duga-Erb. They had a big feast on Tuesday, and plow drivers stopped in throughout the nights for coffee and a rest.
“Our mission is to be a safe haven,” Duga-Erb said.