Rhode Island Foundation pledges $355K to help clean up downtown Providence

kennedy plaza

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With city officials still piecing together a plan to clean up Kennedy Plaza, the Rhode Island Foundation announced Monday it will donate more than $350,000 to three programs that support the poor in downtown.

The foundation plans to donate $150,000 to the Amos House to hire individuals who panhandle to clean roadways and vacant lots; $125,000 to Crossroads Rhode Island to add two full-time outreach workers in downtown; and $80,000 to The Providence Center to embed a second full-time clinician with the Providence Police Department, focusing on the area in and around Kennedy Plaza.

“We recognize that this is a complex problem with many stakeholders,” Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation wrote in his announcement. “At the core, there is a significant population in need of housing, employment, mental health, substance abuse, and other services. We believe that more adequately addressing those needs by linking people to available services will go a long way toward improving the situation. We also know that service needs are most in line with our mission.”

The foundation’s announcement comes as stakeholders remain divided about how to solve the problems that plague downtown, which include panhandling and substance abuse.

On one side, businessman and former Mayor Joe Paolino has called on the City Council to approve an ordinance that would prohibit the transfer of money from people in vehicles to those on the streets, a law designed to curb panhandling. On the other side, Mayor Jorge Elorza has argued for more compassionate solutions, including adding another day center in downtown.

But the lack of action from both the Elorza administration and the downtown business community prompted Steinberg to pen an op-ed in the Providence Journal in September suggesting “little has been accomplished and there is seemingly no collective consensus around solution.”

In his announcement, Steinberg said the foundation would provide the first six months of funding for the three programs up front, with support from the Grace K. and Wesley S. Alpert Foundation. The Downtown Improvement District, which is chaired by Paolino, has said it will seek to raise additional funds to support the cause.

Steinberg said the foundation is prepared to support the three programs for 12 months.

“Our role is to identify competent partners, provide the resources they need to make an impact, and evaluate the results to help inform future investments,” he said. “We are able to provide immediate assistance where others cannot – and that is what we have decided to do here.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan