Pontiac residents made their voices heard last year when NYLO Hotel on Knight Street was used to house people who otherwise would likely be homeless.
Only because of an influx of activity in the neighborhood, which was not all positive, did city officials learn of the program.
Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi who represents Pontiac, said the program run by Amos House had several issues including a break into a neighborhood home and the harassment of neighbors, among other problems.
“It was very bad,” said Sinapi.
A sticking point with the city is that they hadn’t been notified the hotel would be used as a shelter.
Sinapi said most people in the community chalked it up to a one time thing. They thought after last year’s experience that NYLO wouldn’t want to host a program again.
Then in November, after the program had already started, residents learned the hotel was being used as a shelter. Crossroads is running the program.
“This time we didn’t find out way late at least,” said Sinapi.
The program is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides for the use of 150 hotel rooms.
Crossroads has a 24/7 presence at the hotel. Tenants are separated by gender by floor with the exception of couples. No children are being housed at the hotel and all tenants are 18 years old or older. A hot meal prepared by Amos House is provided daily. Tenants are responsible for their own laundry with the exception of sheets and towels that are changed weekly.
In response to concerns, Crossroads does not permit tenants to congregate in front of the hotel past a 9 p.m. curfew. Residents are allowed to go outside for fresh air, to socialize or to smoke in the back of the building past that time. The back patio is now also open.
But despite regulations, Warwick Police Department have received a number of calls in the area involving residents in the programs.
While the city can’t do anything about the current contract, the council is a vote away from having at least some protections in place for the future.
After seeing issues with the program last year at the NYLO and not being notified in advance again this year, Sinapi said that he wanted to look at what the City could do in that type of situation.
After consulting with the Council Solicitor William Walsh, Sinapi said it was determined the Council could enact an ordinance requiring the state to inform the city of contracts in violation of city zoning ordinances.
The ordinance which was co-sponsored by the entire Council reads “within twenty-four (24) hours of entering into a contract with the state to use a property in violation of a zoning ordinance, the property owner or operator at such property shall provide notice to and delivery of copies of such contract, or amendments thereto, and any related documents to the Mayor, City Council President, City Council Member where the property is located, and the Director of the Building Department.”
Elaborating on the measure Wednesday Sinapi said “once the ordinance goes into effect, it will prospectively obligate any owner/operator (in this case, NYLO) to adhere to it for any new contract or amendment to a current contract. Because anything that would obligate at the prior level, unless the circumstances were different, would cross that line into interfering with state powers.”
The council gave the ordinance first passage on Jan. 19. A second passage is required to take effect.
The council also passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to allow for the same notice in the ordinance and to also to allow the city or town where the contract is happening to sign on as a third-party beneficiary.
The legislation would also provide the city or town “compensation amounting to three percent of the total consideration of the contract, provided, however, that the city or town shall not be obligated to use such compensation to mitigate the impact of the use of the property.”
The state contract with Crossroads is $3.8 million.
Sinapi expects state legislators would sponsor a bill for advance notice and compensation in the General Assembly.
Following passage of the resolution and the first reading of the ordinance, Council President Steve McAllister said “last night the Warwick City Council passed these two items in response to the situation at NYLO. This is a situation that can happen in any neighborhood in Warwick or across the state. The least the state and property owners can do when they enter into these contracts is notify the local municipality. Notifying the host city will allow for proper planning and may help avoid some negative impacts on the neighborhoods. Great work by Councilman Sinapi on drafting this legislation.”
In response to a request for comment from Crossroads regarding the ordinance and resolution, Mike Raia a spokesperson for Crossroads said “Crossroads is focused on providing Rhode Islanders in need with access to affordable permanent housing options and emergency shelter.”
“Our partnership with the NYLO has been critical to ensure that the State has adequate temporary shelter for people most at risk of experiencing homelessness,” said Raia. “We understand the need to balance the support and services we provide with community input and engagement. As we navigate through this phase of the pandemic, the need for more permanent housing is clearer than ever.”
Officer TJ Tavares, community police officer for District 3 which includes Pontiac and the rest of the southern part of the city said that Pontiac is normally a very quiet neighborhood.
Since the program has started Tavares said police have seen an increase in law enforcement.
“It's a shock for the neighborhood,” said Tavares
From Nov.1 to Dec. 20 the department had 27 calls for service in the NYLO area along with 58 officer-initiated calls. Out of those calls, 24 lead to officer action being required which refers to a dispersal, arrest, transport, or some type of report completed by an officer.
During that time period there were seven arrests and two overdoses in the vicinity of the hotel.
From Dec. 21 to Jan. 22 Tavares said that there was a significant increase in the number of calls to the area despite being a 20 day shorter time period.
According to Tavares there were 41 calls for service, 59 officer initiated calls, 21 officer actions required, six arrests, and no overdoses.
One location that has experienced their fair share of law enforcement since the program at the NYLO began in November is Cumberland Farms.
Tavares said that since it's one of the only places within walking distance of NYLO, especially late at night it means that many people go there.
From Nov. 1 to Dec. 20 police responded to 13 calls for service which led to four arrests. From Dec. 21 to Jan. 22 they had 18 calls for service and four arrests involving verified NYLO residents.
With the increase in activity Tavares said officers have become more aggressive with their patrols which lead to around the same number of officer initiated calls in 30 days as the previous 50.
Tavares said that while police have seen an increase in activity, it doesn’t mean that everyone in the program is causing issues.
“There's not 180 problem people, there are a handful of problem people but they are making it bad for everybody,” said Tavares.
As part of the contract the program is guaranteed to continue until March 31 with an option to continue until April 30.
But Pete Souza, the President of the Pontiac Neighborhood Association said that the neighborhood association doesn’t want the program to last beyond March.
“We want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Souza.
Souza said that the month of April will likely be warmer and would lead to more traffic by the park where kids play. He said residents are also concerned that there will be an increase in issues for the neighborhood.
“The warmer the weather the more criminal activity that happens,” said Souza.
Souza said that the state can make sure the contract doesn’t get extended.
“We’re going to put pressure on the politicians,” said Souza
In response to a question about whether Gov. Dan McKee will extend the contract past March, Alana O’Hare, a spokesperson for McKee said “the important thing to note is that homeless individuals are being housed for the winter. Governor McKee and his Administration are working on more permanent solutions for housing these individuals, including a budget proposal of more than $21 million to support those experiencing homelessness.”
“In the short term, the Governor is grateful for partners like Crossroads and the NYLO and other area hotels for stepping up to help Rhode Islanders in need during these difficult winter months,” said O’Hare.