[Hpn] South Kingstown, RI - Largest local shelter gets welcome renovations - South County Journal - September 17, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Tue, 17 Sep 2002 01:36:46 -0500

Largest local shelter gets welcome renovations 

BY JENNIFER D. JORDAN - South County Journal - September 17, 2002

John has been staying at Welcome House, South County's largest
shelter, for several weeks now, but he doesn't know when he'll be
able to move out.

He's stayed sober and gotten a part-time job at a Wakefield
supermarket, making $7.25 an hour -- two important goals he's set
for himself as he tries to pull out of addiction and unemployment.

But even if the 50-year-old starts working full-time, he'll make
just $1,160 a month, far below what he needs to earn to rent an
apartment in South County.

"This place has been a godsend," John said yesterday, inside the
shelter's warm but shabby common room. "They help you save money
here. They give you support."

But today's housing market is working against people such as John
and thousands of working families throughout the state, said
Chris Barnett of Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp.,
a self-supporting corporation that's financed the construction or
rehabilitation of more than 70,000 houses and apartments.

The agency is financing a $500,000-renovation of Welcome House
this fall.

"It all boils down to affordability, and increasingly, there's
little that's affordable in South County, especially Narragansett
and South Kingstown," Barnett said.

In the past four years, the average three-bedroom rental in
Narragansett has risen from $953 a month to $1,136, a 19 percent

In South Kingstown, the average two-bedroom apartment has jumped
34 percent, from $660 in 1998 to $889 this year, according to a
Rhode Island Housing survey.

That's out of reach for people earning $7, $8, even $9 an hour,
Barnett said. In an ideal situation, people should spend only 30
percent of their income on housing.

That means a family of four, with earnings of about $25,500, or
two full-time jobs paying minimum wage -- $6.15 -- would spend
$640 a month on rent.

"There's nothing around here in that range," Barnett said. "So
people are making choices between fixing the brakes on their car
or paying rent. It's a house of cards destined to fall, and when
it does, they need temporary shelter."

Welcome House tries to fill that gap, but it's getting harder as
the number of homeless rises, said Linda Barden, the shelter's
executive director.

Barden said the number of calls from homeless families increased
last winter, a combination of the failing economy and the strain
on the local housing market from students from the University of
Rhode Island, Barden said.

"A lot of people are working paycheck to paycheck, and if you
miss one or two, because you lose your job or get injured or
sick, you lose your housing," Barden said.

The 16-bed shelter will get a boost in the coming year, thanks to
the renovation.

The century-old building, located at the corner of North and
Kingstown Roads in Peace Dale is "worn out" Barden said.

The project will expand the kitchen, which produces about 15,000
meals a year, add a women's wing on the second floor and a dining
room on the first, add bathroom facilities and strengthen the
building's foundation. The red building will also get new siding
and new windows.

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin was on hand for a ground-breaking ceremony
yesterday, and Barden said the congressman has been a strong
advocate for housing programs in the state.

But Barden is still worried about the number of people who need
the shelter and Welcome House's coveted 15 transitional
apartments, as housing and rental prices continue to increase in
South County.

"I know that panic, that feeling of 'oh my God, I have no place
to live with the kids tonight,' " Barden said, referring to her
difficulty finding housing in the early 1980s, as she raised her
two children.

"People show up here with everything they own in trash bags," she
said. "They're here because of mental illness or substance abuse
or a domestic violence situation or because they lost their job.

We try to find them housing after they leave here, but it's hard."

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