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Meeting need in the town square
By Neil Steinberg / November 7, 2016 /   Loading Disqus...
In mid-September the Providence Journal published an op-ed from me entitled Collaboration in the town square. At the time there was significant concern and conversation about improving security downtown, and about improving the lives of those in need who find refuge in public spaces like Kennedy Plaza.

As noted in that piece, the Rhode Island Foundation has often acted as a convener on difficult to navigate issues – helping local leaders and local service agencies find solutions to complex challenges. Given that experience we recently met with three organizations who are already successfully working to meet social service needs downtown, along with the Downtown Improvement District, Providence Foundation, and members of Mayor Elorza’s administrative team. Our goal in bringing the group together was to find places for collaboration and to contribute to an actionable plan that would begin to meet emergent need.

Together, we did just that. We are thankful to each of these stakeholders for their cooperation, and as a result we are pleased to share that we will be investing more than $350,000 in three proven programs that are already making a difference in the lives of those in need downtown.

Along with Amos House, Crossroads, and The Providence Center, we have identified a three pronged approach to increasing the social services available in Kennedy Plaza and downtown Providence:


  • Amos House will receive $150,000 to double the number of people put to work through its A Hand Up program to 20. The grant will also enable the program, which puts men and women who panhandle to work cleaning roadways and vacant lots throughout Providence, to expand from two days to three days a week.
  • Crossroads RI will receive $125,000 to add two full-time workers dedicated to doing outreach downtown. The street team will engage clients at the places and times where they congregate, assess their needs, and facilitate referrals to appropriate services.
  • The Providence Center will receive $80,000 to embed a second, full-time clinician with the Providence Police Department in order to enable it to increase its focus on downtown. The clinicians will divert people from involvement with the criminal justice system to substance abuse and mental health treatment and community-based services.

We have committed to providing the first six months’ worth of funding to scale these programs upfront, with the help of co-funding from the Grace K. and Wesley S. Alpert Foundation. The Downtown Improvement District plans to launch a complimentary effort aimed at raising additional private contributions from the downtown business community to offset the second six months. However, we are prepared to fund the full amount needed to ensure these programs are at the capacity described above for 12 months.

We recognize that this is a complex problem with many stakeholders. At the core, there is a significant population in need of housing, employment, mental health, substance abuse, and other services. We believe that more adequately addressing those needs by linking people to available services will go a long way toward improving the situation. We also know that service needs are most in line with our mission. As a community foundation – and thanks to the generosity of our donors – we have been meeting the needs of Rhode Island’s diverse communities for 100 years. Our role is to identify competent partners, provide the resources they need to make an impact, and evaluate the results to help inform future investments. We are able to provide immediate assistance where others cannot – and that is what we have decided to do here.

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