Delivery of Care/Opinion

Promises, promises

An orchestrated public relations campaign touts some $29 million in new housing investments in a new proposed budget amendment. But a $175,000 investment in a mobile “Dignity Bus” to provide emergency shelter in Woonsocket gets stuck in a bureaucratic contracting snafu.

Image courtesy of I Am The Source website

The schematic design of a Dignity Bus, which can sleep up to 20 people seeking emergency shelter.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 5/8/23
The state’s failure to move forward with purchasing a bus to provide emergency shelter to serve the Woonsocket region reveals an apparent double standard when it comes to securing emergency shelter for Rhode Islanders at risk of homelessness.
Why is the news media willing to serve as a mouthpiece for Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor? What is the backstory with the McKee administration’s dance with the mayor of Woonsocket? When will legislative leaders begin to ask probing questions of the McKee administration’s housing plans?
On Monday, May 8, OHIC will be convening a public forum to discuss health care spending trends in Rhode Island, under the guidance of the Cost Trends Steering Committee. In 2021, commercial health care spending grew three times faster than the benchmark of 3.2 percent – at 9.7 percent. More than the state government’s estimating conference, the rapid growth in health care costs offers a true indicator and measurement of the state’s fiscal health. Stay tuned.

WOONSOCKET – For the second week in a row, there was a late Friday afternoon news dump, orchestrated by Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor and Gov. Dan McKee.

The public relations big splash touted a new budget amendment being offered by the McKee administration, including an ask to spend some $29 million in American Rescue Plan  Act money to create a system of state matching funds, in order to leverage federal money through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Credit for identifying this opportunity to capture federal housing funds belongs in large part to State Sen. Sam Bell, who, working with his intern Phoebe Dragseth, put out a research report in late 2021 that recommended this action.

Most of the major news outlets in Rhode Island – the Providence Journal, The Boston Globe, WPRI, Rhode Island Current  – hungrily swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, much like a freshly released hatchery trout.

‘Though Rhode Island’s housing challenges are significant, this tough scenario has created meaningful momentum for change,’ Secretary Pryor said.

Lost in the flood
What got lost in the flood of managed news coverage was the apparent failure by Secretary Pryor and the McKee administration to pull the trigger on spending $175,000 to purchase what is known as a ‘Dignity Bus” – a 45-foot “overnight shelter on wheels’ that can accommodate up to 20 people at risk of homelessness, targeted to begin operation in Woonsocket. The ‘Dignity Bus” was being built by a nonprofit group in Vero Beach, Florida.

The initiative, which had the support of Gov. McKee and Neil Steinberg, president of The Rhode Island Foundation [but had been opposed by former Housing Secretary Josh Saal], appparently has been caught up in contract negotiations with state purchasing, according to sources.

“We are ready to provide $90,000 to staff the bus for the first six months, contingent on the purchase of the bus – presumably by the state – and the state executing an agreement with Community Care Alliance to manage the bus,” Chris Barnett of the Rhode Island Foundation told ConvegenceRI on Friday afternoon.

However, Stefan Pryor's office issued a “no comment” about the status of the Dignity Bus. And Olivia DaRocha, the Governor’s spokesperson, did not respond to questions asked by ConvergenceRI by email on Friday afternoon. However, Gov.McKee was scheduled to talk with the Woonsocket City Council President on Saturday afternoon to discuss specifically the status of the Dignity Bus, according to sources

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