Remarks by Joe Paolino today on future of Providence’s St. Joseph Hospital
When I became Chairman of the Board of the Downtown Improvement District, Mayor Elorza and I started a public dialogue and met with the hardworking social service partners that you see here today. Meeting with them and creating a series of recommendations, we realized that what our city and state need more than anything is affordable and accessible housing. And so what began in the summer as a goal to ban smoking in Kennedy Plaza and panhandling in the City of Providence has been expanded to help not just our homeless veterans, who deserve a warm, safe place to sleep at night, but the many underprivileged men, women, and children I see everyday sleeping in the vestibules of buildings on Westminster Street, Cathedral Square, Classical, and Central High Schools. It should be the right of every person in this city to sleep in a bed- not on a sidewalk. It should be the right of every person to eat at their own kitchen table. And it should be the right of every person in this city who is struggling with substance abuse to receive treatment at a treatment center, not be arrested and put in prison. These are the guiding values of what we are setting out to accomplish today. Today my family and I are announcing the purchase of St. Joseph Hospital with the sole intent of collaborating with the social service agencies and neighborhood associations to effect positive change in the Providence community through the creation of a facility that provides permanent, affordable, and supportive housing alongside health and community-focused services that will allow them to start a new beginning on the right footing. This is not a shelter. There are many pieces of this project that are not set in stone yet, but this is one thing I will confirm. This is not a shelter. We are not moving Crossroad’s 160 Broad Street location to St. Joseph Hospital and we are not replicating it at St. Joseph Hospital.
Beginning today, we will start exploring all of our options and determining the best course of action to ensure that this landmark of South Providence is given the second life it deserves. This is only the first step on the first day of a long and complicated journey putting together the right partners and financing to make this dream a reality. We are proud to have with us on that journey organizations like Crossroads Rhode Island, who provide family housing in West Warwick and North Kingstown, as well as House of Hope, Amos House, and the Providence Center who I will ask to work with us to put the pieces together and reach out to others in the community who want to be a part of this dialogue.
I have asked and will be asking the heads of our many valuable social service agencies and neighborhood groups what they feel is needed to eliminate chronic homelessness in Providence and make this a better community. This is a process that Mayor Elorza and I started working on back in August. The more we listened to the complex needs of each agency and the more time we spent collaborating, it became clear that while we each have a different background, we have a shared vision. Our dream is to move beyond just providing beds and to create a multi-faceted facility that works with our social service partners and addresses the complex needs of the homeless individuals, families, and children in our city. We want to see on-site daycare, job training, and a job referral process so that families can access hands-on job preparation and know their children are being cared for. We want to see health and wellness addressed with a fitness center, and on-site preventative, emergency, and dental care by partnering with CharterCARE. We want to see clean and sober housing by partnering with Amos House. We want to see comprehensive counseling and treatment for substance abuse by partnering with such agencies as the Providence Center and Riverwood. We want to see how we can learn from the highly successful West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation and how we can work together. We want to see a place where our residents can receive new clothes by partnering with Eva Mancuso’s Clothes to Kids, who will operate a store in our building and offer free clothing for both kids and adults. We want to see a place where our residents can come and watch a game together in one of our community areas. We want to see a place of faith and peace through services offered in the beautiful chapel by leaders in the spiritual community. We want to see a place where our residents can receive educational assistance and even take steps toward a GED or college degree, utilizing Governor Raimondo’s new plan to provide two years of free tuition at our state colleges. We want a place where our residents can grow their own food year-round through hydroponic community gardening by opening a dialogue with the successful Southside Community Land Trust to join us in this venture. We want this facility to be the envy of every city and replicated in every state in the nation. We want to create a national model.
Over the past several months, I have met with Karen Santilli and Michelle Wilcox from Crossroads Rhode Island and we have fostered a truly special relationship. I have met with Laura Jaworski from House of Hope and Eileen Hayes from Amos House and their collaboration and ideas have helped me see how we can incorporate many community leaders into this important dialogue. Moving forward, I will be scheduling meetings with representatives from Providence’s numerous social service agencies as well as the many community and neighborhood groups that serve the community to learn how this project can complement their work as well. I have also reached out to Bishop Tobin and asked that he assist me in contacting other leaders in the faith community to include their positive contributions to the city in a meaningful way.
We can make this facility, this dream of helping to eliminate homelessness, creating affordable and accessible housing, and modelling a better way forward, a reality. I have never undertaken a project like this before, and it will be a work in progress for some time. It will take time and flexibility for the pieces to come together, but I am committed to working together with the agencies and neighborhood groups that do this work every day and doing my part in the private sector to create a path forward. I once told somebody that my favorite color was grey because grey means that I need to be flexible and understanding of the complexities. I can see what needs to be done here so clearly, but I’ve been working toward this and thinking about this for many years. There is no model for us to follow, no step-by-step guide that will help us end homelessness. That’s why today we are asking that the city, the state, HUD, the non-profits such as the Southside Community Land Trust, the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation, the private foundations, and the neighborhood groups such as the Elmwood Neighborhood Crime Watch collaborate with us in the upcoming months and be a part of the conversation. This is not just a conversation about one neighborhood. This is a city and state-wide community venture.
I have made a promise to myself and my family, based on the hopes I have shared with you today, to continue to help, to listen, and to be a partner in helping to eliminate chronic homelessness and creating more affordable and accessible housing in our city of Providence by bringing the right people together as we move forward. This has been a collaborative effort from the very beginning, and we want this to continue to be a community effort. In the past year, the relationship that has formed between the business community and the social service agencies in the city has moved past conversations about how we can make positive change in the community and worked toward real, community-driven solutions. I want to personally thank the Rhode Island Foundation and Neil Steinberg who worked with us to create a special fund of $350,000 that funded the hiring of social workers and an increase in services in the Downtown area and then continued to show their commitment to the community by assisting us in raising another $73,000 at Christmastime. Let’s continue to open up our dialogue and work with the community to create positive solutions. Let’s be problem solvers and get something done.