Cranston councilor pushes back against ‘homeless village’ proposal

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — A Cranston city councilor is urging Gov. Dan McKee to abandon a proposal that would create a village of so-called “pallet housing” in Pastore Government Center.

Councilor Matthew Reilly sent a letter to the governor expressing his concerns regarding his supposed plan to build a “homeless village,” stating that the city “can no longer be the go-to-location to solve all of the state’s needs.”

Reilly noted that Cranston is already home to Harrington Hall, which “houses a high volume of registered sex offenders and other felons who congregate throughout the local neighborhoods each day.”

“We already host the state’s largest men’s shelter, as well as more state facilities than any other city with the exception of Providence,” Reilly said. “We simply can no longer bear any more of the state’s burden logistically, financially or socially.”

“We will no longer sit quietly while the state intensifies its use of the Pastore Center to the detriment of the residents,” he added.

When asked about Reilly’s concerns, McKee explained that the supposed plan the councilor’s referencing isn’t accurate.

“We’re looking at all different options,” the governor said. “Some of them are being embraced and others aren’t … We need the assistance of the municipalities.”

McKee recently awarded $3.5 million to six community organizations to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis by adding 231 beds to the state’s overall homeless shelter capacity. The state plans to announce additional funding for shelter expansion in the coming weeks.

Rhode Island Secretary of Housing Josh Saal told 12 News, “there are no current plans to install pallet shelter units at the Pastore Complex.”

“Our office is working collaboratively with municipal leaders and non-profits across our state to explore innovation solutions to both provide immediate shelter for unhoused Rhode Islanders, and to help these individuals and families access services and supports that put them on a path toward permanent housing,” Saal said in a statement.

Saal also noted pallet shelters are “an innovative and cost efficient option we are currently evaluating.”

“The Pastore Complex is one of several potentially suitable sites we have visited to explore the feasibility of utilizing pallet shelters,” he continued. “All discussions with municipal officials in Cranston and elsewhere have been preliminary, and no decisions have been made.”

Ashley Kalus, McKee’s Republican challenger, slammed the Democrat for not already having a plan in place to address the state’s housing crisis.

“He’s been able to plan for this for the last year, and now here we are again, with no plan and no way to shelter these individuals,” Kalus said.

Preliminary or not, Reilly said he doesn’t want to even entertain the idea.

“That’s something that can go under the radar until the construction starts,” Reilly said. “We need to be active, because we’ve been in this position before where everything is just ‘preliminary’ until things start getting built.”

Councilor Nicole Renzulli tells 12 News she’s worried for the state’s homeless population, especially as the weather gets colder.

“It just kind of troubles me,” she said. “It seems like they are doing this a little bit last minute.”

Mayor Ken Hopkins believes the city has already done its fair share of hosting state programs and facilities.

“We don’t want anymore,” he said. “We will rally the troops if we have to to keep this from coming to our city.”

12 News reached out to Crossroads Rhode Island regarding the proposal, to which a spokesperson said the non-profit organization is not involved and is solely focused on connecting people who are sheltered with permanent housing.