State eyes vacant Providence land in Smith Hill for ‘temporary’ shelter village

Site is a mile south of the homeless encampment off Charles Street and Route 146 demolished last summer

This story was originally published in Rhode Island Current, a publication partner of Ocean State Stories.

PROVIDENCE — A vacant 4-acre field on Victor Street in Providence is the state’s chosen location to build a community of 45 tiny house shelters for people experiencing homelessness — right behind a well-known strip club.

The Smith Hill site near the Foxy Lady, located on Chalkstone Avenue, was chosen because it was close to transportation options, amenities, and services, Housing Department spokesperson Patti Doyle confirmed last Thursday morning.

An overhead shot of the field where a community of 45 tiny housing shelters would go on Victor Street – Google Earth

“The area will be quite private and fenced,” she said. “We know it will be quite secure for our guests.”

The site will span under an acre on the state-owned land corralled within the on-ramp to Route 146 South. It will be named “ECHO Village” and cost $3.3 million, according to an announcement by the Rhode Island Department of Housing Thursday morning. Funding will come from State Fiscal Recovery Funds and Community Development Block Grants, as well the city of Providence.

The 70-square-foot, one-room cabins, called pallet shelters, are equipped with screened windows, electricity, and heating and cooling units. They are manufactured by Pallet, a public benefit corporation based in Everett, Washington, that has created 70 “villages” in the U.S. since 2016.

Providence Mayor Brett Smiley said the city expects to commit $1.7 million in this fiscal year’s budget to initiatives to address homelessness. Of that, $475,763 will go toward the pallet village, said city spokesperson Josh Estrella.

“While Providence has been disproportionately impacted by the housing crisis in Rhode Island, we have consistently responded by providing the most resources, encouraging housing development to meet demand and working towards long-term solutions,” Smiley said in a statement. “Pallet shelter programs have worked in communities across the country, and we hope this program can help our most vulnerable residents.”

The city’s payments will need to be approved by the Providence Board of Contract and Supply, which is scheduled to discuss the matter on Jan. 16.

An official proposal is scheduled to go before the State Properties Committee at its Jan. 23 meeting. Housing Department spokesperson Emily Marshall said if the project gets approved, the plan is to get the shelter community up and running “before the end of the first quarter.”

The Housing Department announcement described ECHO village as a temporary pallet shelter community, but Marshall said there is no timeline for how long it will be in place.

The acquisition is a core part of the state’s Housing Department’s plans to add 300 new shelter beds across Rhode Island as part of its strategy to reduce homelessness over the winter. The site is about a mile south of a homeless encampment off Route 146 on Charles Street that was torn down last August.

Each pallet shelter comes with one single bed, Doyle said. Couples can share a unit if they request a second bed.

Pallets will be set up and operated by House of Hope, a Warwick-based community development corporation. Four office units will be for staff to provide services such as onsite case management, housing application assistance, job training, substance use recovery and mental health services. Substance use is prohibited in the community, according to the Housing Department’s announcement.

A free-standing community room, ADA approved combination bathroom/shower facilities and laundry room will also be offered, officials say. Trash removal will be provided by the state, and residents will have a mailing address, Marshall said.

“House of Hope is firmly rooted in the belief that housing is a basic human right,” said House of Hope Executive Director Laura Jaworski said in a statement. “The construction of ECHO Village is a critical first step in creating a safe, stable, and dignified space for those experiencing homelessness while moving towards housing.”

Individuals and couples will be selected to live at the site through the state’s Coordinated Entry System — a calling system designed to ensure people experiencing housing insecurity have “fair and equal access” to shelter.

Rhode Island would not be the first to have such a shelter community in New England. Other pallet villages were established in Boston, Massachusetts in 2022 Burlington, Vermont in 2023.

Jennifer Barrerra, chief strategy officer for the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, said she’s glad to hear that the pallet project could soon become reality in the Ocean State.

“Rapid Deployable Shelters offer persons experiencing homelessness privacy, dignity, and, most importantly, consistent support from trained professionals,” Barrera said in a statement. “This approval is one step towards implementing the diverse range of programs needed to prevent and end homelessness in our community.”

A manager for Foxy Lady reached by phone declined to comment but said he appreciated the call.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include mention of a community room and ADA-compliant bathroom/shower facilities and laundry room being part of the ECHO Village plan.