PAWTUCKET – The city’s homeless residents once again have a place to go for a warm shower, a haircut, and more, now on Barton Street, thanks to two separate organizations.
Officials last Thursday kicked off the city’s new portable shower location at 345 Barton St. On Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to noon, Peter Kelleher, of Massachusetts-based Support the Soupman Corp., will have his mobile showers set up on site, while on Thursday mornings, starting this week, House of Hope CDC will have one of itsShower to Empower mobile units at the same location.
Kelleher brought his mobile showers to Pawtucket for the first time on Sept. 12, and approximately 12 to 20 people used the showers each week for the first two weeks, according to Support the Soupman’s Operations Manager Chris Gewlas.
In late June, House of Hope had to close down its Dexter Street location, which included showers, and hadbeen working to find a way to bring showers back for the city’s homeless. Employees have been working out of a temporary office at 249 Roosevelt Ave., which doesn’t offer a shower facility. As a result, many of the city’s homeless residents went without showers this summer.
The organization’s Shower to Empower program has three mobile units in Providence, and Sara Melucci, outreach programs manager for House of Hope, said that they provided bus passes for Pawtucket residents to get to Providence this summer.
After reading about the situation in The Breeze this summer, Kelleher reached out to city officials, saying that all he needed was a location and a corporate sponsor to bring his mobile showers to Pawtucket.
“The Breeze got us here,” he said.
Ocean State Job Lot stepped in to sponsor the program, and David Sarlitto, executive director of Ocean State Job Lot and its charitable foundation, said that Kelleher has given his company a gift.
“This isn’t about us,” he said. “We’re happy to be a part of it.” Support the Soupman’s mobile unit has two shower stalls and one handicap shower stall and can put offer approximately 60 showers in a three-hour span, Gewlas said. The unit can run off a garden hose or fire hydrant. The organization will be on site through the winter, he said, with the only thing stopping them being inclement weather.
In addition to showers, soap, and shampoo, Support the Soupman hands out flip-flops, sneakers, clothes, towels, and snacks for those who need them. The organization also hands out survival backpacks during the colder months, including hats, scarves, hand and food warmers, protein bars, and more.
Last year Kelleher delivered approximately $47,000 worth of survival backpacks and said he hopes to hit $100,000 this year.
The Shower to Empower unit includes two shower stalls, a medical exam room, and open space for haircuts and other services. It offers showers, haircuts, basic needs items, foot care, medical services, healthcare system navigation, and bridges to case management.
Staff from its Pawtucket-based ACCESS-RI program will be available to provide case management services, Melucci said.
“The solution to homelessness is housing,” she said, but “a shower is the first step … people need their basic needs met.”
Also in attendance last Thursday was Vanessa Parent, of Lincoln, who owns Vanessa A Hair Salon on Central Avenue in Pawtucket and will be offering free haircuts to men and women every Tuesday, weather permitting, she said.
“We’re here ‘because we care,” she told The Breeze.Representatives from the PawSox Foundation were there last week to donate a $700 check to the shower program.
The Pawtucket Soup Kitchen has also expressed its support of the shower program.
In addition to Kelleher, Sarlitto, and Melucci, speaking at the kickoff were Thomas Hodge, the city’s homeless liaison, and Mayor Donald Grebien.
After explaining the situation that led to both organizations offering showers at the Barton Street location, Grebien said, “We want people to know they have a safe place to come.”
Kelleher founded Support the Soupman after his son Travis died in 2016 from a drug overdose.
“I had to do something to give back,” he said. “He was on the streets and didn’t need to be.”
Melucci said House of Hope is honored to be a part of the initiative on Barton Street.
The number of people impacted by homelessness is increasing, she said, adding that on any given night, 1,055 Rhode Islanders experience homelessness.
Kim Chermesino, a member of the board of directors for Support the Soupman, told The Breeze that driving around Pawtucket they’ve seen a serious homelessness problem.
“The whole board is excited to be in Pawtucket,” she said. “Peter wants (the city) to be the model of how we would like things to work.”
For more information about Support the Soupman, visit www.supportthesoupman.org .
For more on House of Hope, visit www.thehouseofhopecdc.org