Filling a Need
When you think about someone who is homeless, what it is that comes to mind? The picture has changed dramatically over the years as an increasing number of families and people who have jobs find themselves with nowhere to live. And if you’re an unaccompanied woman - someone with no children or partner - resources are hard to come by. Crossroads Rhode Island is trying to address the special need for the female homeless population.
For more information about Crossroads Rhode Island click here.
When you think about someone who is homeless, what it is that comes to mind?
Santilli: “People, unfortunately, have a stereotype of who it is that they think is homeless. They have a visual of a person, or what a person might look like, or why they end of homeless.”
Karen Santilli is the president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island, the state’s largest emergency shelter - in a system that historically had been geared to men.
“And in fact, it could be anybody. It’s families, it’s people that are the ages of our grandparents, it’s young children, young people, 18-24 and women.”
And if you’re an unaccompanied woman - that is, arriving without children or a partner - there have been few resources to help.
“If you are a woman who is not part of a family, you’re not a veteran and you’re not chronically homeless there is almost no rental assistance or other resources available to help you get housed. So that’s something we are now focusing on, saying: Hey wait a minute, you may not have intended this, but this is what’s happening.”
With the help of a $25,000 donation from CVS Health, Crossroads is focusing on unaccompanied women with a special area of its headquarters in Providence, giving up to 40 women a bed, access to this community room and services to ultimately get them into permanent housing.
When the women’s shelter opened a decade ago, Santilli said the goal was to eventually close it. But the need has remained steady.
Santilli: “There are 40 beds that are bunk beds and we said Gee wouldn’t it be nice if at a certain point in time, maybe five years down the road we can take the top bunks off and have 20 beds instead of 40. You’re a grown woman, some of them are in their 60s and 70s ad they have to sleep on the top of a bunk bed? That’s also not okay. But we just haven’t been able to get there yet.”
Boone: “When we think about investing in health related charities, when you think about homelessness and the ability to get access to temporary or permanent housing, Crossroads is just fantastic.”
Eileen Howard Boone is a senior vice president with CVS Health, a longtime supporter of Crossroads.
Boone: “I think for Crossroads it’s a conversation we have every year to say where do we find the best value for the dollar that we’re thinking about, to impact the ones that need it the most. That, unfortunately, changes a lot in the state of Rhode Island, so finding those individual women and understanding that was a need that wasn’t being addressed right now, we didn’t just want to write a check, we wanted to make sure that we were impacting a special population.:
Goodinson: “It was the toughest decision for me, but you know what. My family was safe.”
Alisha Goodinson arrived at Crossroads two years ago, after she was evicted from the house where she was living with her parents and two children. She made the heart-wrenching decision of leaving her kids with her father, while she tried to get back on her feet.
Goodinson: “In the community room, I put my back against the wall because I watched everybody, but there were a couple of people who noticed I was kind of nervous and scared - people off the streets you never know what you’re going to find.”
Goodinson spent a total of six months here, which gave her the chance to get a job at this gas station and convenience store in Providence. Crossroads also provided rental assistance to get her into her own apartment. But the shelter itself was a safe place for her while she put the pieces together.
Goodinson: “The staff here, they keep their eyes open, they know the ins and outs of certain types of people. When they notice somebody’s a little agitated, they’re right out on it. It’s like a home away from home, in a way, because you had memories here. Six months is a lot. People, who laughed, or shared their food. Sometimes you didn’t have money, someone else would hook you up.”
Legette: “They were there for me, and they’re the best and I still stay in touch with them.”
Judy Legette had bounced back and forth between Massachusetts and Rhode Island before landing at Crossroads a year ago. The agency put her up in the women’s shelter and helped secure an apartment a few blocks away. She’ll be marking her first anniversary there this month.
Santilli: “While we do, do shelter and shelter is an important part of the system, the solution is housing. Our goal actually is to do more housing that shelter.”
That can be a challenge in Rhode Island. So Crossroads has hired ‘housing locators’ to go out and look for apartments.
Santilli: “And we work with those landlords to say: we will help you fill your apartments and we will make sure you get your rent paid on the first of the month, and if there’s damage to your apartment we have a mitigation fund where we can help pay for the damage. If you don’t like this particular tenant and you want to evict them, you don’t have to go through the expense and frustration of the eviction process. We’ll find another place for that client to live. And so for all of that would you be willing to reduce your rents a little bit for our folks?”
Santilli said landlords often call Crossroads now with openings. And the contribution from CVS is helping bridge the gap in resources.
Boone: “These are hard-working women that are hitting hard times. It’s not that they’re sitting (around) and waiting for somebody to give them money. These are folks that are really working. It’s that gap that needs to be filled to get them on the road. This is not charity, this is helping people on their path - we would call it path to better health - they say path to home. When you have housing, you have a sense of - safety is not even the right word - but a sense of where you can build. And so for us health and housing work together in Rhode Island.”
Santilli: “Who says: I want to be homeless when I grow up, right? No one expects it to happen to them. And life happens and you lose your job, or you get divorced, or you have a catastrophic illness. And you stay with friends, or you stay with family, then that doesn’t work out because either the space is too small or their landlord won’t let you stay there or you have a fight. Then you put your stuff in storage and you have your belongings, or you’re living out of your car, but your car breaks down. Or you lose your job or you lose your overtime, so you can’t pay for what you have in storage. By the time people come to Crossroads - or by the time we find them on the streets - they’ve gone through much of their safety net and they tend to have nothing but the clothes on their back or what’s in their bag. They didn’t start out that way.”
In Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Rhode Island Spotlight.