Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Cumberland Lincoln 06-25-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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CUMBERLAND LINCOLN EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | JUNE 25-JULY 1, 2020 CUMBERLAND 7 When all is said and done with the planned refurbishment of the 1990s bus shelter on Broad Street, says one local councilwoman, do town leaders really want to invest serious dollars into the facility if people still don't feel comfortable sitting inside of it? District 1 Councilor Stephanie Gemski, making clear that she was asking in the most empathetic and sensitive way possible, addressed the elephant in the room last week when she questioned the plan to invest $68,570 into the Valley Falls bus shel- ter next to Town Hall if officials don't also have a parallel plan to find a new home for the man who lives in the shelter. Gemski said she knows many people have tried to help the man and find him new accommodations, but those efforts haven't achieved the goal. Meanwhile, sleeping bags and other items continue to be kept in the shelter, and she wonders if the facility that's "always in a state of dishevel- ment" will continue in that state after planned renovations are done. If the town is going to spend this kind of money on the project, said Gemski, it's unfair to expect taxpay- ers to be OK with not using it. "Nobody wants to sit in there," she said. Other council members echoed those sentiments, with Councilor Scott Schmitt saying he's aware that "compassionate outreaches" to relo- cate the man have been declined. He said spending close to $70,000 with no resolution to the situation could put the town back in a similar situa- tion two years from now. Mayor Jeff Mutter noted the sensi- tivity of the matter, saying he hasn't wanted to take a hard line with the shelter resident, but after some dis- cussion he acknowledged that he "probably should have been more aggressive to remove the problem." If it takes more aggressive measures now, he said, "we will do that." He apologized, but said, "tomorrow's a new day." There have long been complaints about multiple homeless people living in the shelter and in the Valley Falls Heritage Park on the other side of Town Hall. The council eventually voted 6-1 at its June 17 meeting to allow Mutter to enter into a contract with BlueSkies Construction to complete the bus hub upgrade work at 45 Broad St. for $68,570, with Councilor Peter Bradley voting no. Town Planner Glenn Modica explained that BlueSkies was the low- est bidder on the job to repair the run-down structure, which is miss- ing part of its roof and has Plexiglas panels missing, among other issues. When complete, the shelter will look as it did when it was built in the 1990s, Modica said. The Breeze reported in 2018 after the town won a $60,000 Community Development Block Grant to com- plete the work, and though the bid came in $8,570 higher than that, Modica said the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority has agreed to kick in that final amount to meet the con- tract price. The work will be ready to go in a few weeks, he said, and will take about four weeks to complete, hopefully by early August, just in time for the Broad Street improve- ment project being done by the state to make its way by in September. The work has to be done before fall to accommodate that work, he said. The town is responsible for main- taining the shelter because it's on town property, said officials. The shelter was originally designed by landscape architect Don Leighton and built as part of the $1.8 million restoration of Heritage Park between 1994 and 1995. Mutter said the extent of Broad Street revitalization efforts over the years has basically been to upgrade the bus shelter a couple of times. With the major Broad Street revital- ization now set to commence, he said, it's important to resolve the current situation there. "We will take care of that," he said. Councilor Lisa Beaulieu said she hopes the vandalized glass in the shel- ter will be replaced with something thick enough not to be broken again. Mutter responded that once the town resolves the situation with those liv- ing there, that particular issue will go away, as he learned that it was the man living there who broke the glass. Bradley then asked if the man was charged with any crime. Mutter responded again that this is a sensi- tive topic and there was no direct evi- dence that the man broke the glass. Even if there was physical evidence, he said, it's not a situation where he would press charges, particularly based on the poor condition of the shelter. Mutter said he has no inter- est in pressing charges against a man who already has enough problems. The mayor said he's not advocat- ing for improving the building for the benefit of "occupants who shouldn't be there." It's up to his administration to make sure that improvements don't go to waste and the shelter is properly monitored and cared for, he said. Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah King said the local homeless- ness issue is one she's passionate about, saying she's been in touch with multiple homeless outreach advocates who have worked with those at the bus hub. She said RIDOT will help the effort to connect the homeless person with outreach workers because the shelter is on a state road. Trained workers have been speaking on a reg- ular basis with the man, she said, and hopefully that work will bear fruit. Council President Craig Dwyer asked whether it would be worth add- ing a camera to the area, but Mutter responded that the town already knows who the homeless people are and that they're there. There's a human element here that officials are aware of and troubled by, he said, but they also understand the practical ramifications of having people live in the shelter. Officials are going to make sure other people who want to use the bus stop use it without inter- ference, he said. The Valley Breeze is committed to keep- ing in-depth news stories such as this one free to our readers. You can be a huge part of this local journalism success story by making a one-time or monthly contribu- tion to what we do every week at valley- breeze.com/support. Thank you as always for reading. BREEZE PHOTO BY ETHAN SHOREY The VALLEY FALLS BUS SHELTER on Broad Street is set for a $68,000 rehabilita- tion, but some town officials are questioning the wisdom of that kind of investment if it's being used as a place of rest for homeless people. BUS SHELTER From Page One Commitment to Quality Dependable Trusted Accurate Inspirational 6 Blackstone Valley Place, Suite #204, Lincoln, Rhode Island 02865 Phone 401-334-9555 Fax 401-334-9994 Website valleybreeze.com Making our communities stronger by telling their stories. Please consider supporting The Valley Breeze today – Visit valleybreeze.com/support In our 25 years of existence, we've been all of this and more. From the beginning, we've believed that a hyper-local news model is what best serves our readers. The Breeze is free to our readers, and will remain free, but our hope is that those readers with the resources to invest in journalism where they live will choose to take a more active role in this local news success story, joining advertisers in helping to bring it to the people each and every week. Thank you to all who have donated! Your monthly or one-time contributions are greatly appreciated! 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