Where To Go?
The Rhode Island General Assembly is considering legislation to limit the number of registered sex offenders that can stay at state-funded shelters - a direct response to the high number of offenders at Harrington Hall in Cranston, the state’s `shelter of last resort.’ This week, Jim Hummel sits down with the sponsor of the bill and the head of Crossroad Rhode Island, which the state hires to run Harrington Hall, who says opening more shelters is not the solution.
Between 6:30 and 7 o’clock every morning, the pilgrimage begins.
Dozens of men fan out, many to a nearby bus stop, ultimately heading to Providence for the day to hang out. Others walk down Howard Avenue in Cranston, their destination unclear.
It is a scene repeated virtually every day of the year at Harrington Hall - Rhode Island’s so-called homeless shelter of last resort, located in the heart of the same complex that houses the Adult Correctional Institutions and the state’s Traffic Tribunal.
Harrington Hall has become the source of discussion and debate at The Rhode Island State House this session - because of the number of sex offenders that stay there on any given night. The General Assembly is considering legislation aimed directly at the facility, although it doesn’t specifically mention Harrington Hall in the wording.
Lancia: ``It would limit the number of sex offenders at any state-funded facility to no more than 10 percent of that population.’’
Cranston Representative Robert Lancia submitted the legislation, in an effort to force both Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and the Raimondo Administration, to confront the problem, which he says goes back nearly a decade. At its peak, sex offenders occupied as many as 60 of the 112 beds available at the converted shelter, although that number has decreased to about two dozen, more recently.
Harrington Hall is in Speaker Mattiello’s district.
Lancia: ``And he said to me a year ago: `I’m working on a plan.’ Nothing happened, so I had to basically push the issue.’’
Hummel: ``There’s a larger, statewide issue: you can put a cap at 10 percent, but then where do they go?’’
Lancia: ``You raise a great issue. We really need to bring everybody to the table and come up with a solution.’’
Santilli: ``If you are homeless and you’re a registered sex offender there is nowhere else in this state where you can seek shelter and sleep at night, so they’re here.’’
Karen Santilli is the president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island, which the state contracts to run Harrington Hall. The story the public has not heard among the spate of recent news coverage is what has happened since Crossroads took over the day-to-day management of Harrington Hall last summer and the implementation of a philosophy the organization has called Housing First.
Santilli: ``That basically means that you don’t have to prove yourself worthy or able to be housed, we will house and focus on those who have the highest needs, those who have been homeless for years, chronic homeless, those with disabilities, we assess everybody, prioritize them, then house the most with the highest acuity or needs first.’’
And, she says, Crossroads in making progress.
Santilli: ``Between January and February we housed five men; their total years being homeless, just those five men, was 47 years - so they each had been homeless an average of 9 years, and now they have their own apartments.’’
Hummel: ``Since you took over?’’
Santilli: ``And that’s the goal you talked about.’’
Santilli: ``That’s our goal, nobody should have to sleep in an empty, abandoned auditorium with 112 strangers.’’
The Speaker said he is inclined to pass Lancia’s bill - but added it doesn’t address the larger issue of homelessness - and doesn’t answer the question of where the sex offenders would go if they were turned away from Harrington Hall because of a strict cap.
Hummel: ``The critics would say that if your bill goes through, then you limit it, then where are they going to go?’’
Lancia: ``Well that’s why the Speaker said that he would pass the legislation with the caveat that we’d get a 6-month time frame for the administration to develop these other facilities. Some people say that may not be enough time. You know what? This has been going on for years and no one has done anything. We have finally got to find a solution and put a stop to this.’’
Last week the House Judiciary Committee passed an amendment to Lancia’s legislation: it still calls for a 10 percent cap on sex offenders, but delays the implementation until January of 2018 to give the administration more time to look at the issue. The legislation will have Mattiello’s blessing when it reaches the House Floor.
Santilli was part of a meeting last month at the Speaker’s office about the problem.
Santilli: ``He understands that if you just put a 10 percent cap with no other plan in place, what happens to that 12th person that shows up? We don’t want to break the law, we can’t let them in, where do they go?’’
Hummel: ``Even though you may have a bed available.’’
Santilli: ``Correct, because now the law may say no more than 10 percent.’’
Lancia: ``We haven’t gotten our hands around the issue. How many folks are we talking about?’’
Hummel: ``Then how do you plan for another facility if you don’t know how many folks there are?’’
Lancia: ``Well that[‘s why we have this timeframe, where we bring everybody to the table and say: What are we actually dealing with? What are the numbers, what is the cost?’’
Back at Harrington Hall, Santilli says her preference would not be to build more shelters; rather, to put resources into finding housing for the homeless.
Santilli: ``It costs less to house someone than it does for them to stay in shelters for years and years and years. We’re also talking with the governor’s office and the administration on what’s the best solution for taxpayer dollars, for the people that need our services, for this population, the people in the community? I mean there’s a lot of concerns here, a lot of stakeholders that want to do the right thing and not waste precious resources but address the problem.’’
At Harrington Hall, the doors open up every day late-afternoon. Those staying for the night check in, get a hot meal and lights usually go out by 10 o’clock. They have to be out for the day by 7 a.m. - unless they have appointments with case managers or the weathers is really bad.
Santilli says Crossroads has a team of case managers and housing locators - and some personnel assigned directly to work with the sex offender population.
Santilli: ``They’re coming from the ACI, they’re coming from Intake, they’re coming from the court system. They’re with family and friends and something doesn’t work out and they end up on the street, and they end up here.’’
Crossroads has been trying to address the problem before inmates hit the streets.
Santilli: ``Six months prior to their release, a separate team of case managers and housing locators are working inside the ACI, with these men so that they’re not discharged from the ACI into homelessness, so they’re going right into housing. So that’s helping to slow down the numbers coming in. You can’t succeed in other areas of your life if you don’t you own place, and if you do have your own home, and you have your own key to own door, and you have your own bed and your own shower, you are more likely to keep your doctor’s appointments, stay on your medication. You don’t have to worry about people stealing your medication in a shelter or not being able to keep appointments, go to job interviews, you just feel better about yourself when you have your own place to call home. We’re not looking to rehabilitate people, that’s not our goal. Our goal is to house people who are experiencing homeless, as quickly as we can and as respectfully as we can. ‘’
In Cranston, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.