Fighting Poverty in R.I.

EHserversVolunteers of Emmanuel House prepare Thanksgiving meals to the homeless shelters’ guests. Emmanuel House is but one of many examples of how the Diocese of Providence has responded to help those facing difficult circumstances due to Rhode Island’s challenged economy.

What is the church doing to help those Rhode Islanders who have been affected by the state’s challenged economy?

Nearly every Rhode Islander has been impacted in some way by the economic challenges facing our nation and state

During these difficult times, the Church’s primary responsibility is to provide spiritual support for those affected. And while the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence is praying for those affected, it has also significantly expanded its ministries to those who are in need.

Since the early days of the recession, the Diocese has sponsored a number of unique initiatives to provide immediate and tangible relief to those in the greatest of need.  From free bus tickets to those in need when gas neared $4.00 a gallon to heating assistance to opening homeless shelters and much more, through the resources of the Catholic Charity Appeal, the Catholic Church has been a leader in the state in providing the resources to help Rhode Islanders get back on their feet.

While the Church cannot solve each of the problems facing the state, it has taken many aggressive steps to offer temporary relief to those impacted by the economic downturn.  Some of these aggressive steps have included:


Even before the recession hit Rhode Island, at a time when the price for a gallon of home heating oil was rising quickly, the Diocese launched the ‘Keep the Heat On’ program in November of 2005.  This initiative has raised and provided more than $1.3 million in 6 years thanks to generous donations from individuals and businesses as well as grants from the Catholic Charity Appeal.

Keep the Heat On is a heating assistance program of last resort for those Rhode Islanders who have exhausted all other public and private forms of assistance.  The program is a safety net of last resort for those with no place left to turn for heating assistance.

Thanks to this outpouring of generosity, more than 5,000 Rhode Island homes were blessed with heat thanks to Keep the Heat On.

For more information, or to make a donation in support of Keep the Heat On, please visit


As the economy worsened and unemployment in the state remained at double-digit near nation-leading levels, the demand for emergency winter shelter beds exceeded availability.

Since 2005, the former Carter Day Care building in South Providence sat idle and was not used for any form of Church ministry.  In 2010, in response to the growing need for shelter beds, the Diocese – with support from an Episcopal Diocese grant –  opened ‘Emmanuel House,’ an emergency winter overflow shelter.

Emmanuel House would soon open 7 days a week at 7 p.m., including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and grew to be much more than a safe, warm place to sleep at night for 35 individuals.  Staffed by recovering addicts, the shelter began offer addiction recovery to those struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.


Recognizing the need for a day shelter for the homeless, the City of Providence approached the diocese in early 2012 to inquire about the possibility of providing such a service.  With the success of Emmanuel House as an overnight shelter, the diocese offered to open a day shelter for homeless Rhode Islanders.

On January 27, an Emergency Winter Day Shelter opened at Emmanuel House and once again, exceeds the expectation of a safe place to rest during the day.

Through collaboration with the city and other homeless advocates, Emmanuel House offers a number of programs and services to help the homeless.  Computer terminals with internet access help the day guests of the shelter find jobs.  Staff provides resume writing assistance.  Other volunteers provide housing assistance and advice on how to best manage one’s finances.

Emmanuel House has grown into a full service resource that not only provides shelter for the homeless, but provides hope, tools and resources to help the homeless get back on their feet.


On June 12, 2008, AAA Southern New England reported that a gallon of regular gasoline had risen to $4.09 a gallon.  Many Rhode Islanders, faced with the rising cost of gasoline, could not afford to drive to work, the grocery store, or visit their doctor’s office and turned to the Diocese of Providence for help. On June 11, on the steps of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and RIPTA, launched the Catholic Charity Fund RIPTIKS program, an initiative sponsored by the Diocese of Providence that helped Rhode Islanders struggling to cope with the constantly rising cost of gasoline.

Thanks to a $17,500 grant provided by the Catholic Charity Appeal, the diocese purchased 1,166 RIPTIK booklets, each worth $15.00 that containing 10 one way tickets.  The RIPTIKS were distributed free of charge to residents who demonstrated a need for assistance.


In December of 2008 as Rhode Island’s unemployment ranked among the highest in the nation, Bishop Tobin announced a new weekly feature in the Diocesan newspaper and on its website to connect unemployed Rhode Islanders with companies offering jobs.  The newspaper published help wanted advertisements free of charge to help the unemployed find new jobs. The newspaper also published, free of charge, information from those who are seeking employment.


Through the Diocesan Emergency Assistance Grant program, the diocese awarded $75,000 to local non-profits for food at meal sites and temporary housing in homeless shelters to help struggling Rhode Island families.


Responding to an urgent plea from the RI Coalition for the Homeless, the diocese offered its St. Martin de Porres Senior Center to serve as an emergency overnight shelter.  The announcement, made during Christmas week of 2008, provided an immediate need for those without safe and warm shelter.  Knowing that the need was beyond the capabilities of St. Martin de Porres, the diocese would expand its ministry to the homeless over the next two years as the homelessness rate in Rhode Island continued to grow.