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Since late 2011, the Crossroads Family Center has sheltered a record number of families with small children. The Family Center has space for 15 families, but the demand for shelter has been so great in recent months that the staff has had to put cots and mattresses in the Center’s common area and computer study room to accommodate additional families.
At our downtown location, families have had to share our Family Room or sleep in conference rooms because no shelter could be found for them. Crossroads is working frantically to find additional shelter options for families, and the staff at the Family Center is doing everything possible to help parents and children cope with their situations. Homelessness is traumatic, especially for children, and the severe overcrowding at the Family Center presents additional challenges for everyone.
Chontell Washington, Crossroads’ Family Literacy Coordinator, tries to come up with creative approaches to brighten the lives of the families and help the children enjoy learning activities while they are with us.
“Last year, we had a grant from the Ronald MacDonald House Charities, and I was impressed by their mission to enhance children’s lives. That idea stuck, and I decided we could enhance the lives of the children in our shelter despite the difficulties we are having now,” says Chontell.
She looked through a catalog of arts and crafts supplies, and when she saw some materials that she could use to convert the common area into an impromptu theater, she ordered some paper “guitars” and a backdrop that depicted a curtain and stage lights. The guitars were a little too flimsy, though.
“I knew that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island employees were coming to Crossroads for a volunteer day in April, so I brought my paper guitars and some materials I got from the recycling center to our downtown location and took advantage of some of the Blue Cross volunteers,” Chontell explained. “They cut out colored cardboard backing and glued them to the paper guitars to make them stronger.”
On one of the regularly scheduled Family Literacy days, Chontell took over the Family Center dining room and brought out all the materials so that parents could work with the children to decorate each guitar.
“It was a great learning experience for the kids,” Chontell says. “They learned about guitars, counted the number of strings and learned how each one makes a different sound. It was a good activity for hand and eye coordination, dexterity, and learning new words.”
When the guitars were all decorated, Chontell put up the stage backdrop, lowered the lights and started the music, which turned out to be a universal language for the multi-lingual group of children. One by one, kids volunteered to be rock stars.
One little boy called his song ‘4’ and happily sang the words, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,” rocking to the music, with all the other children joining in.
“The parents were so proud of their little rock stars,” Chontell says. “So many of the children in the shelter are suffering from the trauma of having lost their homes, and they don’t talk to anyone. But when we started rocking, they all began to join in the dancing and singing. It was a wonderful time for them, and parents were so happy to see their children doing something fun.”
After the concert, the children enjoyed healthy snacks and continued to sing and show off their very own guitar creations.
This effort, which brought so much joy to children enduring very hard times, shows how a small effort by community volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of our clients.
“I am so happy that the Blue Cross volunteers will be able to see how their work making paper guitars turned into so many smiles and so much happiness,” Chontell says.
Crossroads is very proud of Chontell and her woquatrrk to bring a successful Family Literacy program to our Family Center. These kinds of programs are a rarity in a shelter setting, but they are a powerful way to help children create positive memories while they are with us.
If you would like to help dedicated staff members like Chontell continue to enrich the lives of homeless children and give their parents the essential support and services they need to move their families out of homelessness, please consider donating now.
A small team of women from Bliss Salon in Providence donated their time and talents to the families in Crossroads Citizens Bank Family Center this November.
Bliss Salon owner Christine Paige, her assistant Sara, and Sara’s daughter Diamond transformed the computer area of the Family Center into a mobile hair salon for one afternoon, offering free haircuts and styling to a dozen people.
When she decided that she wanted to give back to her community by donating her time, Bliss Salon owner and stylist Christine chose Crossroads and our clients as the recipient because at one time, she was a client herself.
“Crossroads is near and dear to me,” Christine explained. “I was part of the transitional program years back and they helped with housing until I was able to get on my feet and establish myself.”
Years later, after finishing cosmetology training and opening her own salon, Christine was thrilled to come back and offer her services to help our clients look and feel their best.
"This is my opportunity to feel like I’m doing something for others and give back to a program that was there for me,” she said.
Bliss Salon is located at 555 Douglas Avenue in Providence.
One of the many difficulties of homelessness in Rhode Island and throughout the country is the struggle that families often face to stay together. It is not uncommon that parents and children have to be due to shelter rules about gender or age differences, or a simple lack of space to accommodate an entire family together.
Kevin* came to us a year ago, in March of 2016. His family had struggled with homelessness for over two years. Kevin and his wife had gone from full-time employment to part-time employment to no employment. Towards the end of this chapter in their life, it took all of the fortitude and strength the two parents had to feed and protect their three children while keeping them healthy and together. Family was, and still is the most important thing to them, and staying together was all that mattered.
Kevin made the decision to move his family to Rhode Island even though they did not have a permanent place to stay. They had friends and family in the area, and while they could not fully rely on these relationships to support them, it was a smart and conscious decision to move to Providence.
When asked about the decision to move, Kevin said that it made sense for his children, so that they could be safe and get an education while he worked tirelessly to find employment and a home for all of them.
Luckily for Kevin and his family, he was referred to our housing department, and we were immediately able to place them in one of our two family shelters, where they could stay together.
As soon as they arrived at the family shelter, life began turning around for Kevin, his wife, and his children. Crossroads was able to find housing for the family, and within a week of moving in, Kevin found part-time work as a dishwasher.
The best part about the job was the security and the permanence that came along with it. Kevin’s job began midday and went long into the night, but he persevered and even went a step further.
In the mornings, after Kevin and his wife got their children off to school, Kevin would come to Crossroads, where he entered and completed the Janitorial Training Program.
Kevin spent his mornings educating himself and his afternoons and nights working. This hard work soon paid off in the form of a job opportunity at a hotel in Warwick.
In March 2016, the family was struggling to stay together and keep their family whole. By July 2016, Kevin was fully employed as a second shift janitor at the hotel and his family will be able to permanently and securely stay together through the housing opportunity afforded them by Crossroads and our generous donors.
Kevin isn’t the only one perusing a career with the help of Crossroads’ Education and Employment Services department; his wife just started attending our CNA Training classes! Their story is one of perseverance, success, and family.
While Kevin and his family have just begun the road to a new chapter in their life, there are always more families who need our help to end their homelessness. The work we do is possible only with the support of our caring friends and neighbors who wish to lend a hand up to people like Kevin.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Today, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian announced plans to re-open the former Rhode Island Family Shelter located on Beach Avenue in Warwick.
Through a mutual and amicable agreement between the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Family Shelter and Crossroads Rhode Island, Crossroads will begin operating the shelter for homeless families on Friday, September 4th. Crossroads will also provide services and support to the families living in the supportive housing units at that same location.
A collaborative effort by the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, Rhode Island Housing, the City of Warwick and other local community partners and donors will provide funding to operate the shelter and housing program.
“I am very happy to know that this partnership will preserve all of the shelter bed space that was offered in the City of Warwick, and I am happy to see the relationship that has developed between Crossroads and the Rhode Island Family Shelter,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian. “It’s great to see a positive resolution to this issue, and I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been involved in the process for coming together to ensure that some of the most vulnerable citizens of Warwick and Rhode Island will continue to have a safe and nurturing place to stay.”
“Crossroads is honored to have been asked by the Board of the Rhode Island Family Shelter and the Mayor of Warwick to step in to re-open this valuable community resource for families who are
homeless,” said Karen Santilli, President of Crossroads Rhode Island. “This is a particularly difficult time of year for families with schools opening as well as the coming holidays and winter. While Crossroads’ goal is to secure stable homes for these families, the need is outpacing the resources available for affordable housing, and emergency shelter is necessary. We are committed to working with these families to get them housed as quickly as possible.”
The shelter offers space for up to ten families at a time. While in emergency shelter, these families will receive case management and supports from Crossroads to move into housing as quickly as possible. The seven families in the permanent supportive housing program will also continue to receive supportive services from Crossroads. With overwhelming need for shelter capacity for Rhode Island’s homeless families, this collaboration will provide families safe and secure temporary housing and will keep families together as they seek permanent solutions to their homelessness.
“The Rhode Island Family Shelter Board of Directors is excited about the reopening of the shelter as our goal was always to keep with our original mission of helping families in need. We appreciate Crossroads’ collaboration and experience during this transition time and look forward to our on-going relationship,” said Christina Johnk, Board Chair, Rhode Island Family Shelter.
Providence, RI, July 1, 2016
The Board of Directors of Crossroads Rhode Island, the state’s largest provider of services to the homeless, today announced a merger with the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, an organization serving victims of domestic violence. After a formal three-year affiliation, the two organizations have merged into one 501(c)3 organization governed by the Crossroads Board of Directors, and all Women’s Center programs and services have moved into Crossroads’ continuum of care as the Domestic Violence Program of Crossroads Rhode Island.
The Board of Directors of both organizations unanimously agreed to the merger. “This merger represents the coming together of two organizations united in the common goal of empowering vulnerable individuals and families to overcome homelessness and live safe, self-sufficient lives free of violence,” noted Virginia Branch, Women’s Center of Rhode Island Board Chair and Crossroads Rhode Island board member.
By combining the resources of both organizations, this new entity is better positioned to meet the needs of the community.
“By merging, we will improve the quality and accessibility of services to survivors of domestic violence and expand the range of services that support clients as they transition to safety, housing and stability,” noted Jack McConnell, Crossroads Rhode Island Board Chair. “The merger not only enhances and expands the scope of services of both nonprofits, but also provides a larger operating platform,” he added.
From a sample of women who had experienced domestic violence, 38% became homeless after they separated from their abusive partner. An additional 25% indicated that they had to leave their homes during the year following the separation for both safety and financial reasons.
“By bringing an innovative Housing First approach to our Domestic Violence Program, we hope to break the cycle of violence by providing opportunities for supportive, safe housing options for women and children as they transition from shelter,” noted Karen Santilli, President of Crossroads Rhode Island. “We will continue to offer comprehensive, evidence-based programs and services to individuals and families in crisis, such as 24/7 hotline, domestic violence safe shelter, case management, employment support and supportive transitional and permanent housing that survivors want and need to become independent.”
A Domestic Violence Committee of the Board will ensure that evidence-based domestic violence programs and services will continue and expand to meet the needs of clients who have experienced the trauma of domestic violence.
Additionally, Crossroads has applied for affiliate membership with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV), an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence.
“The Women’s Center was one of the founding member agencies of the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1979, and they have been an integral component of the domestic violence movement in our state. We are looking forward to working with Crossroads Rhode Island, and to helping them maintain critical services for victims of domestic violence in the Providence area,” noted Deborah DeBare, Executive Director of the RICADV.
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