PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence has opened a new women’s emergency homeless shelter on the second floor of its Emmanuel House shelter, located on the South Side.
State of Rhode Island Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor joined James Jahnz, diocesan secretary for Catholic Charity and Social Ministries, for the ribbon cutting on the project on Dec. 7.
Renovating the second floor of Emmanuel House, which was previously the diocese’s Carter Day Care Center, was a two-year process from the conception, planning and designing to finally renovating the space, which has the capacity for 32 emergency shelter beds for women operating from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day, 365 days a year. It will remain open 24 hours a day in times of extreme or inclement weather.
The project spanned two episcopacies, and Jahnz first paid tribute to Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Tobin, who approved of the building of the men’s shelter back in 2010.
“Bishop Tobin has been a strong supporter of those who are experiencing homelessness throughout the years and made many personal visits to Emmanuel House over the years,” Jahnz said.
“Bishop [Richard G.] Henning took this project over the goal line, and I really want to thank him. He first visited the Diocese of Providence about a year ago, and his first visit was to Emmanuel House. He toured this area in an unfinished state and committed to seeing that it was going to be finished.”
Jahnz also expressed his appreciation for the “steadfast leadership for those experiencing homelessness,” provided by Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, vicar general of the diocese.
“Msgr. Kenney is a tireless behind the scenes advocate and offers innovative ideas and creativity and has been instrumental in the expansion of the work the diocese is performing in the field,” Jahnz said.
Jahnz also complimented the high level of support the diocesan ministry has received from the Rhode Island’s Office of Housing for not only access to funding, but also for technical support.
“They have walked hand-in-hand with us through the whole way,” Jahnz said of the leadership of Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor and his staff at the Office of Housing.
Jahnz said that support included site visits by Pryor, including one in which he visited the shelter with Jahnz at 10 p.m. on a frigid evening to assess the need for more resources to help the homeless.
“Lots of people talk the talk, but Secretary Pryor and his staff walk the walk,” Janhz said.
Pryor attended the opening along with Lauren Barnes of the Housing team, who has been the point person for facilities work in service of Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness
The secretary said that in terms of walk the walk, “the diocese is doing so,” offering praise on behalf of Gov. Dan McKee’s administration to the Diocese of Providence.
“We have formed a coalition of religious leaders in religious communities aiming, in fulfillment of our faith traditions, to perform the mission of serving our most vulnerable Rhode Islanders,” Pryor said.
“The Catholic diocese has been at the center of it, and it includes the episcopal diocese, it includes rabbis in the Jewish faith, it includes Imams in the Islamic faith. At the center, the Catholic diocese has at every turn been of service and of help. This expansion of Emmanuel House is of profound importance with the beds you see before you and opportunities with additional emergency beds.”
In case of need, there will be 41 new beds available for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, starting with the Emmanuel House beds dedicated to single women, according to the secretary.
Pryor noted that the work is not finished, noting that he is working with the diocese on developing other sites to help shelter the homeless as well.
In addition to beds, Emmanuel House also provides case management services to the guests, including resume building, job searches, and access to the numerous resources provided by the diocese through its Catholic Social Services section as well as access to addiction and recovery services.
Jahnz also thanked the project’s construction team, including Ashley Prester from DBVW Architects, Peter Grundy and Dana Rivello from Dome Construction and Gary Ferguson and Rob Cooke from the diocesan facilities team.
“Shelter Manager Mike Marzullo and the staff from Emmanuel House deserve all of the thanks in the world,” Jahnz said. “They were able to run a shelter that housed 50 men each night while an 18-month construction project was taking place literally over their heads.”