ON THE FRONTLINES: HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS DURING COVID-19Download Full Report PDF
As Chairman of Crossroads Rhode Island’s Board of Directors, I am proud to share this 2020 Annual Report and the inspiring story of determination as Crossroads successfully delivered on its mission to help homeless or at-risk individuals and families secure stable homes, despite the many obstacles of COVID-19.
While much of Rhode Island spent the pandemic socially-distancing safe at home, Crossroads remained open 24/7, continuing to provide critical shelter and housing programs.
As the pandemic stretched from weeks into months, Crossroads’ dedicated frontline staff doubled-down on their efforts to offer support and services to the growing number of people experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island, including many who had never been homeless before.
I am so grateful to the many friends and community partners listed in this report whose generosity ensured that Crossroads was able to step up to meet the growing need by quickly expanding its shelter and housing programs. We also take great pride in the fact that 89 percent of all funds raised in 2020 directly supported housing programs and services. Housing is, after all, the only known solution to ending homelessness.
Driven by the core belief that everyone deserves a safe place to call home, Crossroads’ amazing team rose to the challenge, making 2020 a year of hope for so many. Thank you, our supporters, for making that hope possible.
This year more than ever, your support very literally saved lives. Thanks to you, our generous donors and funders, Crossroads was able to provide housing and housing-related programs and services to more than 3,000 people last year.
If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that the link between health and housing has never been more clear. Crossroads’ longstanding mission to help homeless or at-risk individuals and families secure stable homes became a matter of public health and safety in 2020. After all, how do you stay safe at home and socially distance if you don’t have a home to go to? Unfortunately, Rhode Island had a critical shortage of housing that people with very low incomes could afford long before any of us ever heard of COVID-19, and the pandemic only made things worse.
When the virus took hold, we started seeing a significant increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. People who had been staying with friends and family were suddenly no longer welcome guests. Sadly, this created a double-digit increase in the number of families experiencing homelessness, most of them headed by single mothers. The number of people staying outdoors also increased by an alarming 52 percent last year with many deciding that it was safer to live on the streets than in a congregate shelter where the risk of getting COVID-19 was higher.
To help keep people safe, Crossroads rolled out robust safety protocols at all of our locations and offered onsite COVID testing for both our clients and employees. To help ensure adequate social distancing, we operated our shelters at 50 percent capacity and created additional shelter space in tents and later at local hotels. To help keep people from becoming homeless, we stepped up our diversion and eviction prevention efforts. Most importantly, we maintained our steadfast commitment to getting people housed.
Like other frontline workers, we are tired—really tired. But we are also resilient. And after months of what has felt like constant fear, frustration and uncertainty, the vaccine rollout seems like it may finally bring…hope. Hope for the gradual return to normal. Hope for improved health. And hope for a better future where every Rhode Islander has a safe and affordable place to call home.
– Jack McConnell, Chairman, Crossroads Rhode Island, Board of Directors
– Karen A. Santilli, President & CEO, Crossroads Rhode Island
With her big brown eyes, long, dark hair and bright smile, Shyanne looks like any other girl in her mid-20s. But once you get the pretty 26-year-old talking, the truth comes tumbling out.
Shyanne grew up on the south side of Providence. One of her earliest memories was seeing her father shot and killed in the car that she was riding in. It was Christmas Eve. She was seven years old. After that, life became a struggle as she and her mom tried to make it on their own.
“I became a mom at 16,” Shyanne said. “At nineteen I had twins, so that’s three kids.”
One day, she and her mother came home and everything was just…gone. The woman who owned the house they had been living in had sold it…and didn’t tell them.
“I don’t know how you become homeless, but you just do,” said Shyanne wiping away a tear. “Life changes or something just happens right there in that second and then you’re homeless.”
They spent a few months couch surfing with friends, but you can only do that for so long when you’re a family of five.
After running out of options, Shyanne and her family moved into a place not meant for human habitation.
“The hardest part is just trying to feel yourself and pick yourself up when you’re upside down,” she remembered. “If you’re a woman with kids, that’s the hardest part. Especially when your kids are talking like ‘Mom, what is this? When are we going home?’ That was the hardest part for me.”
Shyanne and her family were homeless for many years-- and then the pandemic hit. Desperate and afraid, Shyanne reached out to Crossroads for help.
“Most people lose themselves being homeless because they don’t know about Crossroads,” said Shyanne. “My case worker, Miss Pam, she got me through the hardest times in my life. It helps when you have people who genuinely care, not just because it’s their job, but because it’s who they really are. They care.”
Miss Pam, a Crossroads case manager, helped Shyanne and her family move into a hotel where they stayed during the winter virus surge. It wasn’t easy spending the holidays cooped up with three kids in one room during the shut down, but it was clean and safe and definitely better than being homeless.
After a few months in the hotel, Pam helped Shyanne and her family move into a new apartment in Providence. Since getting her keys, Shyanne reports that all three of her kids are “doing awesome in school” and that she’s training for a customer service job and working towards earning her GED.
“I got my biggest goal of all, my apartment and somewhere safe for my kids to call home,” said Shyanne with her big smile. “When they say there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there really is and you can’t convince me there’s not.”
After two years of decline, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island increased significantly last year. Driven by the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, the number of families experiencing homelessness increased by 17 percent, most of them headed by single moms with multiple children. The number of people living outdoors also increased by an alarming 52 percent.
“Our clearest priority was the safety of the thousands of people who were relying on us for our services and our hundreds of staff members,” said Karen Santilli, President and CEO. “We had to figure out how to keep people safe and healthy…and alive. We just had to move into action—and that’s what we did.”
So while much of Rhode Island was socially-distancing safe at home, Crossroads’ expanded its critical housing programs and services and remained open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help meet the growing need.
“Our staff on the frontlines were really managing dual crises: their own personal fears, while all the while trying to minimize the fears of the people who were coming to Crossroads for help,” said Cicely Dove, Chief Program Officer, Shelter/Crisis Services.
In 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Health and Governor Gina Raimondo urged people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by staying home and socially distancing. But how do you stay at home if you don’t have a home to go to? Preventing homelessness quickly became more than just a social problem, it became an important public health and safety issue.
So when the State of Rhode Island asked Crossroads to implement Housing Help RI, a statewide initiative designed to help Rhode Islanders experiencing housing insecurity, that’s just what we did. As part of a joint effort with Rhode Island Housing, Crossroads processed nearly 7,000 applications and distributed $2.2 million in housing assistance to more than 500 low-income households who had been financially impacted by COVID-19 and were at risk of becoming homeless.
Help finding a new apartment in the middle of the shutdown and conflict mediation with local landlords were other common diversion efforts last year that helped keep people from becoming homeless.
Throughout the pandemic, Crossroads partnered with other homeless service agencies (listed below) to coordinate efforts and ensure that anyone experiencing homelessness. We appreciate their partnership.
Although we try to keep as many people in their homes as possible, diversion isn’t always possible. When that happens, emergency shelter provides people with a safe place to stay, while we work to move them out of shelter and into permanent, affordable housing.
On March 1st, when Rhode Island confirmed its first COVID-19 case, more than 200 men, women and children were living in one of the five emergency shelters that Crossroads operates. Keeping our clients safe and preventing the spread of the virus quickly became a top priority.
“All of our shelter programs are congregate settings, with shared common areas and shared bathrooms,” explained John MacDonald, Chief Program Officer, Housing/Support Services. “We went to extensive lengths to keep our shelter clients and staff members safe, instituting aggressive cleaning protocols, disseminating masks and providing on-site COVID-testing, but we knew that we also needed to spread people out.”
Recognizing that congregate settings presented an increased risk for transmission of the virus, Crossroads made the decision to operate our existing shelters at 50 percent capacity. Additional shelter capacity was created by setting up a large tent outside our headquarters at 160 Broad Street in Providence for the women staying in our Women’s Shelter. Unfortunately, Rhode Island experienced violent storms in April, one after the other, with gale force winds and heavy rain, which streamed into the shelter tents, soaking our clients’ belongings.
Determined to come up with a better solution, Crossroads partnered with the State of Rhode Island and moved about 130 people out of shelter and into local hotel rooms where they were able to safely stay during the virus surge, while we continued our efforts to help them find housing.
“After we moved to the hotel and our clients were able to socially-distance from other people, they were able to relax and rest and put their physical baggage down,” said Jennifer Watkins, Vice President, Emergency Shelters. “Once they felt safe, they were able to focus on their housing.”
It took a lot of hard work, but given the urgency of the situation, Crossroads was able to successfully house more people during the spring virus surge than during the same six-week period in 2019.
“The thing that was so powerful was that under all of the stress, all of the uncertainty, we were still housing families, men and women, members of our community, back into permanent, safe, stable housing in the middle of a pandemic, said Ronnie Young, Shelter Manager, Harrington Hall. “I mean, what more can you say, right?
Getting a job—and keeping it—is critical in helping our clients maintain their housing and achieve self-sufficiency. That’s why Crossroads offers a broad range of trauma-informed programming, including basic adult education, computer literacy, pre-employment support and job placement.
But finding a way to safely offer these programs and help our clients find work in the middle of the pandemic required a lot of creativity last year. Fortunately, our Education and Employment Services team didn’t miss a beat, quickly figuring out how to use tools like Google Classroom to offer a range of programs remotely and in-person to 163 individuals.
As Shyanne, a Crossroad Client, states: "I got my biggest goal of all, my apartment and somewhere safe for my kids to call home. But now I want a job. I want my GED. You don’t give up. You keep pushing and doing what you’re doing until you get to where you want to be in life."
Sometimes all people need to end their homelessness is a little help, like money for a security deposit or moving costs. Crossroads’ Rapid Rehousing Program provides just that: the short-term assistance and services that people need to quickly become housed, achieve self-sufficiency and maintain their housing.
But moving people out of shelter and into housing requires…well, housing. There was a critical shortage of housing that people with very low incomes could afford before the pandemic and finding available units during the pandemic, with a state vacancy rate of less than two percent, was almost impossible.
With the number of people experiencing homelessness and staying in shelters rising, Crossroads’ Housing Navigator team got to work. It took countless phone calls and emails, but...
On average, each household received about 8 months or $12,000 of rental assistance and supportive services before achieving self-sufficiency.
While most of the people that Crossroads serves each year only need temporary support, about 20 percent require permanent supportive housing and ongoing support due to mental illness, chronic health conditions or histories of trauma, or other factors.
“Being able to see someone move from where they were, with all of the challenges that they had before they came to us, and seeing them housed and able to reach their goals makes you want to continue to do the work that you do,” said Jill Cronin, Director of Kingstown Crossings, a 104-unit apartment complex that Crossroads owns and operates in North Kingstown. “It’s really an amazing experience to witness.”
For about $15,000 per household per year, Crossroads is able to provide high needs individuals and families with a place to call home and the services necessary to help them stay housed, including ongoing case management, basic needs assistance and education and employment services.
Last year, Crossroads provided permanent supportive housing to 185 individuals and 25 families who needed help the most. With support from Crossroads, an additional 483 households were able to maintain their housing.
Oliver was scared. He didn’t know what he was going to do when he and his seizure alert dog Belle became homeless. He had one outfit in his backpack, some dog food and only a small disability check for income.
“How am I going to afford living on $750 a month when rent is about $650 a month?,” he wondered. “How am I going to do that? I had no idea. There was no way I could live outside in the winter time with Belle.”
Desperate and out of options, Oliver went to Crossroads where he met fellow dog lover and Crisis
Intervention Specialist Bobbijo Anderson. After bonding over Belle, a scruffy, sweet-faced terrier, BobbiJo managed to ease Oliver’s fears, saying, “We’ve got a place for you. Don’t worry.”
Bobbijo got Oliver into shelter as a temporary solution. Then, in the months that followed, she worked with Oliver to find a permanent supportive housing unit where he would only have to pay 30 percent of his $750 monthly income on rent. Oliver could hardly believe that he’s actually able to afford his own apartment.
“I’m so grateful to Crossroads,” said Oliver, taking off his glasses to wipe the tear running down his cheek. “They made me feel safe. Belle was safe. What they’ve done for me is amazing.”
Oliver absolutely loves having his own place again.
“I love being able to cook again,” he said, proudly pouring a steaming cup of coffee in his kitchen. “That’s one of the things that I missed, being homeless. This apartment is my home. My home. I just love saying that!”
One of the biggest barriers Crossroads faces in helping people end their homelessness is the critical shortage of housing in our state that people with very low incomes can afford. So while much of Rhode Island was shut down last year, we forged ahead with several redevelopment projects. Unlike other affordable housing developers, Crossroads’ housing is unique because 100% of the homes and apartments we develop are exclusively for those who have experienced homelessness.
“Although we did experience a few delays in getting materials, we’re happy to report that we were able to complete extensive renovations on 30 apartments in 14 different properties in Providence throughout the pandemic,” said Michelle Wilcox, Chief Operating Officer. “Crossroads Family Housing now provides dozens of very low-income families with a safe and newly updated place to call home. Although 2020 presented a lot of challenges, one of the brightest spots was seeing the smiles on these families’ faces when they moved into their new homes.”
Getting one of those apartments meant everything for Crossroads client, Letitia Hall, who had been living in her mother’s basement with no running water. Securing housing gave her a place to raise her two youngest children.
“If I could, I would wake up and kiss the ground every day. Blessed. Blessed to have housing.” said Letitia. In addition to creating more family housing, Crossroads also continued pre-development work for the renovation of our Travelers Aid Housing at 160 Broad Street in Providence. This building, which is often called “The Tower,” currently provides permanent supportive housing for 176 formerly homeless men and women. Last rehabbed in the 1990s, Crossroads is planning on replacing the dated, dormlike single occupancy rooms with one-bedroom apartments that will include private kitchens, bathrooms and living areas. Funding sources for this project are currently being finalized.
Last, but not least, we were able to acquire a new property at 371 Pine Street in Providence with Federal Cares Act funding. As part of our COVID-response, we’re currently using this property as a temporary night shelter in order to sociallydistance our shelter clients. The building is also providing much-needed office space for our Diversion and Eviction- Prevention teams.
Once the pandemic is behind us, we hope to redevelop the building into an innovative health and housing facility which will combine permanent supportive housing with respite care for clients with complex healthcare needs being discharged from the hospital.
We didn’t know what to expect when COVID hit, but new government funding sources and support from our funders and donors helped us keep people safe and expand our housing programs and services to meet the increased need.
In 2020, Crossroads and its subsidiaries raised or earned $18.8 million and total expenditures before depreciation for our operations were $18.1,” said Merelise Hitte, Chief Financial Officer. “Of those expenses, we are very proud to report that $16.2 million or 89 percent was spent on direct program support.”
Crossroads relies on a variety of sources to fund our housing, shelters, services and programs, including:
They say that every cloud has a silver lining and 2020 was no different. While it was a challenging year for so many reasons, we are incredibly grateful for the show of solidarity and support from our many donors and funders.
“Whether you made an additional gift to help us meet the challenges of COVID-19, attended one of our virtual events, donated masks or hand sanitizer, or just sent us an email to see how we were doing, it made all the difference.” said Laura Calenda, Chief Marketing & Philanthropy Officer. “During the most difficult times, it meant so much to know that so many of you were thinking about our clients and our staff.”
We rely on our donors to keep our critical programs going. Thanks to you and your continued support we managed to keep people safe and were able to maintain our focus on ending people’s homelessness throughout the pandemic.
On behalf of the thousands of Rhode Islanders that we help each year, thank you for making our work possible!