19 Jul 2022
It is mid-morning on a weekday in June and Amos House is bustling. Inside the Pine Street building, the lobby is filled with BIPOC men and women searching for assistance – many with nowhere else to go.
In the middle is a woman who is trying to organize the chaos. Although she has a meeting scheduled at that moment, she asks for a few extra minutes so she can address each person in need – including a woman who is walking around without any shoes on her feet.
“You will have shoes by this afternoon,” she tells the woman.
Eileen Hayes, slight woman who would rather be in the lobby helping the community than in her second-floor office, away from her “guests.”
“It’s what I do. I’m a social worker. I want to help. I don’t want to sit up in my office,” said Hayes, who has served as the executive director of Amos House for more than 20 years. “I need to be out there, helping the people who are in need.”
A Helping Hand For Those Who Need it Most
Nearly 15,000 of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable people pass through the doors annually at Amos House, looking for housing, a meal, or one of the many services the non-profit organization provides. Some are just looking for a friendly face – like Hayes’.
What started as a small soup kitchen almost 50 years ago has grown into a full-service social service agency serving Rhode Island’s homeless, unemployed and those living in poverty. Amos House still serves meals – more than 130,000 a year – but now offers a variety of critical services including substance abuse recovery, job skills development and housing services.
The recovery program is the foundation of work at Amos House.
“These times of high stress only increase occurrences of relapse,” said Hayes. “We have added technology to all our houses to help our guests access remote NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, meet with mental health practitioners, and feel connected to family and friends from whom they are physically separated. Our experience is that community is the strongest support for recovery, and we are committed to maintaining a strong sense of community for all our guests who are addressing their substance use disorders.”
The past is left behind when a guest walks through the doors.
“I don’t care about your past … about your worst days. Tell me when you’ve been at your best. Tell me about your best day. If you do that, we can see how you got there and how you can help get back there,” said Hayes. “I want to know what works and then do what works. That’s our goal. We build a plan from the moment we meet and create a safe place for those who need it to work through our plan. I want to know where they want to be – not where they have been.”
The majority of those participating in Amos House’s services are people of color.
“At any given time 60% to 70% of those who come to us for services come from the BIPOC community and as such, we work to ensure that our programs are informed by the needs of those we serve. Amos House addresses community issues with the goal of creating long-term stability in all areas of life: housing, job training and employment, financial security, and physical, mental, and behavioral health,” said Hayes. “Through our work, we are aware that many community issues that are within our focus have been impacted by years of systemic racism. Our focus is on providing services in the areas of reentry, employment training, housing access, family reunification and more is informed by the knowledge that we must work to not only provide direct services, but also to change the broken systems that create these inequities.”
The lack of affordable housing is perhaps the most critical service Amos House is working to address. Affordable housing is at an all-time low nationally. Rhode Island is no exception. Hayes notes Rhode Island is 5,000 units shy of meeting the needs in the state.
According to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the homeless population grew 50 percent in the last four years. Currently there are 1,172 homeless in Rhode Island, according to the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness.
To address this rising problem, Amos House has developed a Landlord Incentive Program and is operating a family shelter in the former Memorial Hospital building in Pawtucket. The 30 families currently living there are also participating in critical programs including parenting skills, financial coaching, case planning and life skills.
Placing the guests back in the workforce is also a key focus. Many who are working toward recovery are justice-involved and face many barriers when it comes to entering or re-entering the workforce. Amos House works with its guests on a path toward stability and provides critical services including job training and development.
“I see people who want to improve their present and future, they want work. They just need a little help,” said Hayes. “People deserve a second chance.”
Amos House offers that chance.
Amos House has created programs that help its guests ease back into the workforce, without obstacles. One of the many successful programs is A Hand Up, a program in which guests work to beautify Providence and receive a daily stipend of $50 for their efforts.
“They take pride in their work,” said Hayes.
With support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, Amos House will be able to expand its programs and support services to Rhode Island’s most vulnerable. Job development and employment will be the focus.
“Funding from POC allows Amos House to invest in new training avenues, opening up opportunities for thousands in our community to access jobs that earn a living wage,” said Hayes. “The job market is a rapidly changing landscape, and our goal is to work with employers, unions, and other labor entities to increase access for unemployed and underemployed men and women. Together with POC, Amos House has the chance to positively impact the future for BIPOC individuals and families across the state of Rhode Island. We pride ourselves on helping to remove barriers to stable employment by addressing court fines and fees that prohibit licenses to get a good job, providing recovery housing that offers safe, recovery-based housing for individuals and families, and developing pathways that consider challenges such as BCI’s, low educational attainment, and struggles with behavioral health disorders. With these barriers on our radar, we are committed to matching every individual with a decent, well-paying job.”