PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An overcrowded and dilapidated building that serves as Rhode Island's largest homeless shelter for men stands to get a $1 million facelift under the state budget proposal pending in the General Assembly.
Harrington Hall in Cranston has 88 beds in a barracks-like room in a former gymnasium on the grounds of the state's Adult Correctional Institutions. Often more than 100 men spend the night, sharing three showers and two working bathrooms that have no doors on the stalls. When it opened in 2005 Harrington Hall was supposed to be a temporary response to the state's growing homelessness problem.
The $8.2 billion budget proposal heading to a vote Tuesday in the House of Representatives would set aside $1 million for upgrades. House Finance Chairman Helio Melo, D-East Providence, said the state's investment would allow the House of Hope Community Development Corp. to use its own funds for other projects.
Figures released earlier this year show the number of homeless people in Rhode Island surged by more than 10 percent in 2012. Homeless veterans and children saw the largest increases in the numbers.
Homeless advocates said they're grateful for the state's offer, but the tax dollars could be put to better use in helping the homeless. They have long petitioned the state to move the shelter to a former women's prison nearby. That facility is in better condition, has room for job training, substance abuse counseling and small apartments for transitional housing, and would only need $300,000 in repairs before it could open, advocates said.
"The General Assembly has heard us and we appreciate that," said Jim Ryczek of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. "But we feel this is misdirected. We want taxpayer money to be used effectively and this is not the most effective use."
Advocates like Ryczek also are asking lawmakers to insert money for rental subsidies into the budget.
It's possible lawmakers could change the budget on Tuesday when the House debates the legislation before a vote.
According to the earlier figures, nearly 4,900 people spent at least one night in a homeless shelter or temporary housing in Rhode Island in 2012, up from about 4,400 in 2011.