WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — One Rhode Island city has found a creative way to combat homelessness in the community.
Monday night, the Woonsocket city council approved the purchase of a 45-foot coach bus, which will be turned into a miniature shelter.
For months, Woonsocket council members have been working to secure what’s called a “Dignity Bus.”
The bus was originally found and pursued by the state, but the process was held up.
“I was a little bit upset about it,” City Council Vice President Valerie Gonzalez recalled. “We had been working on it for quite a bit.”
Gonzalez was on vacation in Florida when she got the news the bus was falling through, so she took matters into her own hands.
“When I woke up, I was just, ‘Oh my God, the bus is in Florida, and so am I,’” she added. “So I made a few phone calls and was able to meet with the organization ‘The Source.’”
She was able to convince the company to sell directly to the city instead of working with the state.
She said that will be a huge advantage to the city’s homeless population.
“We can house our citizens first,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes, having the need right in the backyard of your community, these social workers get frustrated seeing the need right in front of them. They can qualify the people for assistance, but they can’t help them because they aren’t the next on the priority list.”
The $150,000 Dignity Bus can house up to 20 people, more than half of Woonsocket’s estimated homeless population.
Each double-decker bunk has its own bed, privacy curtain, and phone charger. The temperature-controlled bus also features TVs, as well as storage for belongings and even pets.
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The Source CEO Anthony Zorbaugh said homeless people were involved in the design and build of the bus.
“It’s different when somebody’s going through it to then be part of the process and really listening to them and giving them the tools they need to move forward,” Zorbaugh explained.
Woonsocket is only the second community in the country that will own a Dignity Bus.
Gonzalez expects the bus to arrive in mid-July. There will then be a two-day training by The Source for those who will be working on it.