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Group goes to work for homeless

CHARLESTOWN — Each year, two apartments might be able to keep four to eight families off the streets for periods of 90 days until a more permanent housing solution is found for them. Securing those apartments is the new focus of Family Housing Support, the community group that formed in June in response to increasing family homelessness in and around Westerly, Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond.

About 30 people gathered at St. Andrew Lutheran Church last Monday for the group’s fourth community meeting. Joe Carr, who was elected along with Tara DiMuccio to co-chair the steering committee Monday night, presented several short-term goals devised by the committee at a meeting earlier this month. The purpose of the short-term goals, Carr said, is to have a positive effect on the community within just a few months.

One goal is to fund two apartments that could be used to house families in crisis for 90 days, until they can get on their feet or find a longer-term housing program, such as the WARM Center’s Harvest Homes in Westerly. Group members chose to focus on a short-term temporary housing arrangement for families because they found that this type of service is not being provided. “Right now, there is not a short-term piece,” Carr said.

The group estimated that the annual cost would be $19,900 for each apartment. That includes $850 a month for rent, $200 a month for utilities, $300 a year for insurance, $5,200 annually for case management, and $1,800 yearly for administrative costs. Furniture could be provided by local houses of worship and the community. The plan is to have the WARM Center administer the apartments, provided that the two groups can work out an agreement. With two apartments, the “fundraising baseline” would be about $40,000, said Carr.

“The contributions that come from the community will really fortify this,” he noted.

Another goal is to distribute a promotional flier with information on how to offer help, and where to turn for help. Members Linda Chaffee and Mike Reeves are working on the final details, and the pamphlet is expected to be ready for distribution in the next few weeks.

Several members said plans need to be in place by November, in time for the most active season for donations. Newly elected secretary Laurie Luzzi suggested that people could give donations to the effort as holiday gifts to others. The details will be completed at the next steering committee meeting in October.

Carr said he hoped to build a strong core of volunteers from the local faith community. Russ Partridge, executive director of the WARM Center, noted that although volunteers can be very helpful, they can’t necessarily work directly with clients. There are confidentiality and “boundary” issues, he said, as well as strict guidelines for working with a family that has children.

“The folks that we see are very needy,” said Partridge, “and they need a great deal of support, and you have to learn how to provide it in a respectful way, which sometimes means at arm’s length.”

Over the next month, members of the steering committee will complete the details of the partnership with the WARM Center, and complete the structure of the new group so that fundraising can begin. Several people said they’d like to see the apartments available before winter starts.

“This is one plan that would give us a vision,” said Carr.

To emphasize the need for the group’s work, the committee presented some statistics from the 2013 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook. In 2012 in the Westerly-Chariho area, 18 children were living in shelters in 2012, and 90 were identified as homeless by the public schools.

“It’s a significant problem in our area,” said Carr.

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