News & Event
By Mark Patinkin
Journal Staff Writer Posted May. 10, 2015 at 12:01 am Updated May 10, 2015 at 1:58 AM
She was in her early 50s and had one unusual priority she explained to friends this way: “I wanted a job that would make me cry.”
Someone made a suggestion, and in March 2000, Nolan drove to Providence from her Cumberland home and walked into Traveler's Aid, which served the homeless.
“Their pain,” she recalls, “was palpable.”
Since then, Anne Nolan has been a force that has changed the way Rhode Island fights homelessness.
At the end of this month, at age 67, Nolan will be retiring, so I decided to stop by.
“Once in a while I get sleepy during the day and like to take nap,” she told me.
Hardly; spending a few hours with Anne Nolan helped me see homelessness in a new way.
The majority, Nolan said, are homeless once in their lives; folks just getting by who are suddenly hit by job loss, illness — even divorce can do it.
Karen Santilli, 48, is Crossroads' chief marketing officer and will be replacing Nolan as president. I asked her to sum up Nolan’s legacy.
As a different kind of legacy, Santilli pointed to how Nolan brought a sense of business discipline from her corporate past — including the banking world — to a nonprofit.
“A chicken in every pot,” said Nolan, “peace on earth, end of world hunger, a garage-door opener for every garage.”
For example, Crossroads ran a health clinic because the homeless need that to get back on track. But it wasn’t the agency’s expertise, so she partnered with the Providence Community Health Center to run it for them.
Then, as a mission statement of sorts, she came up with a primary focus that may sound obvious, but it added laser clarity to what Crossroads does. Nolan explained it to me this way:
In the past, that was one of many priorities mixed in with things like counseling and skills training. But she explained that people can’t do the things needed to get back in a home — like finding a job — if they’re worried about where they’ll sleep that night.
The former YMCA building where we were talking is a good example of Crossroads' priority: 200 people now live there — 176 in rooms and 14 in efficiency apartments. All were once homeless, and for cohesiveness, all are single without children.
And yes, they do offer social services, including job training in areas like nursing and janitorial work.
Does she have many success stories in that category?
“We housed him,” said Nolan, “and in the next six months, he had only four visits.”
“I often say to myself I wouldn’t survive the lives most of them have lived,” Nolan said. “The courage they have to endure it is remarkable.”
I asked Santilli, who was sitting in on the interview, for other examples of Nolan bringing focus to Crossroads.
Then she mentioned the fourth, which struck me as odd, so I repeated it.
Santilli nodded and Nolan said there’s a serious reason for it.
That, she said, can drain the staff.
So she instituted a “rejuvenation day” where each staffer has to give a plan to their supervisor for a day off strictly for personal refueling.
Nolan brings the same idea to something Crossroads is famous for in Rhode Island’s nonprofit world — a 600-guest annual fundraiser at unusual locales, one year at an airport hanger, another at McCoy Stadium, and once an outdoor “Beach Ball” on tons of sand trucked into the parking lot of The Providence Journal, one of Crossroads’ major donors. The annual event usually raises around $600,000.
“It used to be the stereotype 45-year-old white male drinking out of a paper bag,” she said. “Now we have every possible face; it’s almost 50-50 men and women.”
Her theory: “I think the sense of community out there used to be stronger. People took care of each other. Families took care of each other.” Today — that's more frayed.
She remembered a moment at a recent Christmas party at the Crossroads family shelter on Broad. Santa came with modest presents for the kids, including a toy truck for one little boy — a cheap thing, said Nolan, that you might find at a gas-station store.
I asked if she's ready to leave or sad about it.
“I love this organization,” said Anne Nolan.
Like the other day when she walked into the Crossroads community room and saw a set of parents there with two babies — and nowhere to go.
Which is what she had always hoped to find in her work.
Written by Karen A. Santilli, President & CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island
Published online on August 25, 2015 at providencejournal.com.
Is it possible to provide every individual and family experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island the opportunity to be housed within 30 days of losing housing? The short answer is yes, when systems and programs are designed to effectively end homelessness rather than manage homelessness.
Rhode Islanders, like residents of other states, have challenges. Wages have stagnated. Housing is not as affordable as it once was. Finding affordable accommodations is difficult. Unemployment is high. And yet homelessness remains solvable. And we know how to solve it -- with a singular focus on housing.
Homelessness is not the character flaw of an individual or head of household in a family. While the stereotypical image is of a person with mental illness struggling with addiction, the truth is that most Rhode Islanders who live with a mental illness and/or addiction will never be homeless. Most people living below the poverty line will never be homeless. Homelessness is a remarkably rare event informed more by unique circumstances and interruption of natural supports than anything else. The solution, therefore, should be so focused.
Ending homelessness is more cost-effective than managing homelessness. It is cheaper -- about threefold less. People who are homeless consume significant taxpayer-funded services, from emergency health care to frequent interactions with police; court costs dealing with petty offenses and misdemeanors to sheltering services.
Over the past two years, Crossroads Rhode Island has revamped its programs top to bottom to focus on housing. The result? Overwhelming increases in people exiting Crossroads programs into housing: 1,238 were moved into housing in 2014 -- a 26 percent increase over 2013. Crossroads’ solution-focused thinking is pervasive in shelters and employment programs, to get people connected to housing as quickly as possible. Lengths of stay in shelters for families and single adults operated by Crossroads are down: 2014 shelter stays decreased 20 percent from the previous year.
How did we get there? Making the tough choices. From top to bottom, Crossroads’ staff now performs the tasks and interventions necessary to end every person’s homelessness. It meant changing programs and staffing. It meant having a board that supports what is proven to work, not necessarily what felt like just a charitable action. It meant making a commitment to continuous improvement.
As a result, Crossroads has been recognized as a national leader and had the opportunity to showcase its accomplishments at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. Others want to know how Crossroads Rhode Island went about decreasing the lengths of stays in shelters, and increased the number of people moving into housing and staying housed.
More can and needs to be done to move the entire state in the direction that will achieve maximum results. Ending homelessness in Rhode Island requires critical thought and action on where to place state and federal resources.
The best use of those funds is to target them to the individuals and families that need them the most, not based on first-come, first-served. The best use of those funds is to use data to drive investment. The best use of those funds is in hands-on supports that help people locate and move into housing quickly, and then supports for whatever issues triggered the episode of homelessness in the first place.
The best use of those funds is investing in organizations that have a track record of successful outcomes and are professionally trained on the interventions proven to work. The best use of those funds is investing in programs that deliver services aligned to evidence and practice.
A charitable approach of well-intentioned but misguided organizations is not going to cut it.
It is time to realize that we need a different approach than the one that got us into our current state -- of more than 4,000 people homeless in Rhode Island. Crossroads is blazing the path of what is possible in the state. As the new president of Crossroads, I am committed to making the changes necessary to get the job done. Will the state and its people step up to support this proven approach to ending homelessness?
The Providence Journal, July 11, 2016
Op-ed by Karen Santilli
Regarding Froma Harrop’s June 29 Commentary piece (“The streets cannot be a home”): Many cities and states are seeing an upsurge of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness. So much so that they have turned to emergency declarations to try to tackle the crisis.
The picture that Harrop painted of unsheltered individuals and families was vivid and, although extreme, is the reality for many cities across the country. What was most important in the piece was her acknowledgment that additional funding is needed to solve this complex issue.
Here in Rhode Island, we too are seeing an increase in the number of people we serve. It is unacceptable for any man, woman or child to be homeless. Yet each year thousands of Rhode Islanders find themselves without a place to call home.
A shortage of affordable housing has resulted in rents that absorb a disproportionately high share of income, leaving many only an illness, accident or paycheck away from becoming homeless. Thousands of Rhode Island families and individuals live at or near the poverty line, and are vulnerable to becoming homeless.
The only lasting solution to homelessness is permanent, affordable housing. Far too often, however, we attempt to treat the symptoms of homelessness instead of its root causes. Crossroads is working to increase the number of affordable housing units available, with the goal of preventing and ending homelessness.
Additionally, and in combination with services provided to those who come to a shelter, we have an active street outreach team that identifies, monitors and educates unsheltered homeless people about the programs available to them. In 2015, our outreach team moved 45 individuals who were living on the streets into their own apartments.
We know what the solution is, and we are working tirelessly to put it in place. However, we have a limited budget. With additional funding we can make an even bigger impact on our community and solve homelessness in Rhode Island.
In November, Rhode Island voters will see a referendum on the ballot to provide additional funding for affordable housing. We hope residents understand how vital the bond is and support creating more affordable housing opportunities in our state.
Providence Journal Article: http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/20160711/karen-santilli-money-for-housing-crucial-for-ri-homeless
Today is a bittersweet day for me, as it marks my last day at Crossroads Rhode Island. Over the last 15 years, I have been privileged to work with the most dedicated staff, Board of Directors, and supporters anywhere to end homelessness for countless families and individuals in our state.
We are excited to celebrate the passion and dedication of Crossroads Rhode Island's board member Eileen Howard Boone, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and Community Relations for CVS Caremark.
We cordially invite you to join us in celebrating Eileen and Crossroads Rhode Island with an evening of cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and a silent auction on Sunday October 28, 2012, 7-9pm at the Providence Place Mall
The full amount of each ticket purchased through our organization will benefit Crossroads Rhode Island.
To purchase tickets, please contact Joe Graziano at (401) 277-4325 or firstname.lastname@example.org or click through to the Donate Now page and enter Providence Place Gives in the allocation field. Tickets are $20 in advance and must be purchased by October 23,2012. Tickets will also be available for purchase the night of the event at the door for $30.
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