Unbalanced Trees and Climate Change helps Archeologist: A roundup of environmental happenings from ecoRI News

An Unfair Tale of Two Tree Canopies

At the corner of John and Benefit streets on Providence’s East Side, the tree equity score — a measure that indicates whether there are enough trees in specific neighborhoods for everyone to experience the health, economic and climate benefits that trees provide — is a perfect 100.

Across the river, the blocks stretching from the Jewelry District to South Providence along Eddy Street score among the worst in the state at 63.

Areas with low tree canopy today often correlate to areas that were historically redlined or are home to large proportions of people of color.

Recent investments have advanced green infrastructure in some spaces, but not all investment is put in the places that need it most.

In early September, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management handed out 1,000 free trees. Within a week, all the trees had been claimed. But, according to Vrinda Mathur, an industrial design graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design and a Maharam Fellow with Social Enterprise Greenhouse, these trees may not be getting to the places that need them most.

She said this style of program presents “logistical or administrative” issues. The trees were available for pick up only, which can make it difficult for those without a car to take advantage of the program.

Alerting neighborhood groups or posting signs in community centers could help spread the word, she added, and get trees to the state’s most exposed urban areas.

Tree-planting programs must be “citizen-led,” Mathur said. Community members take on a years-long task of tree maintenance with limited immediate reward. This puts areas with a lot of renters — who may not care about multiyear investment — and low-income residents — who may not be able to spend time and money on such a project — at a disadvantage.

“I think the solution really isn’t just coming in and planting trees,” said Cassie Tharinger, executive director of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program, a Providence-focused street-tree stewardship program. “There are real structural and material barriers. … What has to happen is shifting and tackling that.”

If you’d like to check out your neighborhood’s Tree Equity Score, visit https://www.treeequityscore.org/map/#10.5/41.8368/-71.4256

In Bizarre Twist, Climate-Fueled Storms Do Excavation Work for Archaeologists

Coastlines are used to steady change, slow cycles of erosion and revegetation. They have a “self-healing mechanism,” according to Tim Ives, the principal archaeologist with the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. That mechanism stabilizes the shores and, as a result, keeps the region’s archaeological record safely buried.

But in late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy stripped away that protective layer and exposed the old coastal terrain. Artifacts dating back more than 4,000 years — from revolutionary-era French coins to rings of “fire-reddened” stone to quartz projectiles and chipping debris — were suddenly sitting in the open.

“I could literally walk and find piles of stone that someone had worked thousands of years ago,” Ives said. “When these coastal storms hit, they give us a timed opportunity to get in there and add more pages to the human story that we didn’t know had been written.”

On Block Island, Sandy was a game changer, according to Ives. Archaeologists identified 163 exposed deposits all around the island. Pressed for time and funding, the archaeologists tested 20 percent of the deposits and excavated nearly 600 test pits in locations scattered around New Shoreham.

“We didn’t realize that the entire coastline was basically one nonstop archaeological site, but it is,” Ives said.

Charlestown in Quandary Over Quarry

Frequent blasting and loud industrial trucks were just some of the complaints voiced by residents during a September Zoning Board of Review meeting about the proposed expansion of a quarry on Alton Carolina Road.

During a Sept. 7 special meeting, the Zoning Board of Review took public comment about the Route 91 operation. The business, Charlestown Farms LLC, was served with a violation notice in July when town officials found the quarry violated the local zoning code. The gravel company was engaged in sand washing and processing off-site material without the proper permits and had expanded its operations onto property not zoned for extractive activity, according to town officials.

An attorney for Charlestown Farms appealed the violation during a Sept. 1 special meeting of the Zoning Board of Review. At its most recent meeting, the board voted unanimously, 5-0, to reject the appeal.

Brenda Pater, a lifelong resident of Charlestown, recalled childhood memories when the gravel pit was a smaller, quieter mom-and-pop operation. But the blasting in recent years, she said, has gotten out of hand.

“I have to say I called the Town Hall for the first time in my life about three months ago because I thought we had an earthquake,” she told the board.

In its final decision the board found Charlestown Farms provided insufficient evidence for appeal.

For more on these stories, and to get the latest environmental news, visit www.ecoRI.org. Subscribe to ecoRI News’ free weekly e-newsletter at www.ecoRI.org/subscribe.

Got Buttermilk?: Kinda Amazin’ at Kin Southern Table + Bar

When our server, Tyce, dropped off “Black Girl Magic”—a cocktail described simply as peach vodka with lemonade—she suggested we “give it a stir” before drinking. Confused, we followed her instructions, and then we saw it: swirls of glitter sparkling through a deep purple liquid, like stars in an evening sky.

“Is that glitter?” we exclaimed, but Tyce had vanished, her own kind of magic, leaving us in wonder.

This was just the beginning of our evening at Kin Southern Table + Bar, the southern-style soul food restaurant in downtown Providence, which opened its doors on March 30th, 2021. 

That date is significant because it was exactly one year after owner Julia Broome was laid off from her corporate job due to COVID. Although she hadn’t been working in the culinary business, per se, Broome’s central focus had been on hospitality. 

“I helped open casinos, developed trade shows, and acted as a banquet manager,” she said. “I built them up from scratch. I figured if I could build that from scratch, then I could build a restaurant and watch it grow.”

While some of us consider our greatest accomplishment of 2020 as the day we put on makeup and real pants without the promise of a zoom call, Broome went immediately to Office Max, bought giant Post-It notes, and began brainstorming. She wrote down her favorite summer BBQ memories, the music playing in the background, the different dishes her family members would bring, and wrote a business plan. She was inspired to create a space for connection in a time of social distancing and, well, missing her kin.

Six months after opening, Broome has perfected her menu, and the “Dranks.” are the best place to start.This fall you can expect a couple of new cocktails, including “Fall for Your Type”—one of the most dangerously drinkable cocktails I’ve tasted, with Salted Caramel vodka, apple cider, and ginger beer. 

“A bucket o’ biscuits to start?” Tyce asked, having reappeared. We’d been eyeing those, so we agreed, as a way of buying time to narrow down the rest of our food order. The Pulled Pork Sliders, the Farm Salad, the Fried Chicken Sandwich, the Shrimp Po’ Boy?. But as soon as Tyce dropped off the biscuits, we had to reconsider everything.

I had envisioned small, round buttermilk biscuits, but instead, we received four giant, dense layered squares, glistening with butter, along with a towering ramekin full of extra honey butter. 

“That’s butter?” my friend asks. “It looks like ice cream.” 

As if Tyce could read our minds, she came prepared with two to-go boxes and an extra ramekin (with a lid) for each of us to take home a biscuit and honey butter. “It’s great for breakfast,” she advised.

Having realized that this isn’t a “one tiny meatball to share” kind of restaurant, we decided to revise our order to one appetizer and one sandwich and see where we landed. Thanks to a glowing review of the Shrimp Po’ Boy from Tyce (“I can finish the whole sandwich by myself, every time”), we opted for that, and the Farm Salad, adding fried chicken.

The food was plentiful and the Po’ Boy fantastic—the Cajun seasoning on the shrimp, complemented by the “Old Bay Mayo” and perfectly crispy bread—it was mouthwatering, and those fries! You can taste the difference when fries are freshly hand cut, and I’m convinced that they also use a bit of magic in their salt. In my opinion, the fries also make for a great leftover breakfast.

Our Farm Salad was massive, and fully bedecked with roasted sweet potatoes, red onions, corn, tomatoes, sliced southern fried chicken, and a generous drizzle of lemon herb vinaigrette. It seemed illogical that we would attempt to eat dessert, but having already received the to-go boxes, we opted to save some room.

That night they served Beignets and Blueberry Cheesecake. I’m not typically impressed by cheesecake, but I was nearly moved to tears. The last time I had something like this was in Italy; rather than a dense New York style, this had a whipped and deliciously creamy quality. The blueberry compote topping reminded me of my childhood, making this the best cheesecake I’ve had in Rhode Island. And the beignets were surprisingly light. As my friend aptly noted, “they’re less fried dough-y and more croissant-y.” I recommend, if possible, saving room for dessert.

In describing her thought process when the pandemic hit, Broome explained, “I’d been laid off before, so I knew you could either use that time to do something positive, or you could look back on that time and think, ‘Dang, I should have done something.’ So I made the decision to do something with my time.” She not only created a restaurant, she found a way to feed the soul—both hers and ours.

Kin Southern Table and bar @kinpvdkinpvd.com, 71 Washington St, Providence

Rocking Out in October: Picking Up The Concert Scene

Okee dokee folks… It’s pumpkin spice season. Not that I am a fan but I am at least glad that the summer is over. I saw a meme that read “pumpkin spice vaccines available”. If it was real maybe more folks would get it. Here I am eager to get vaccine #3 and there are folks out there still unvaxxed. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and people are still getting sick and dying though you might not know it by some folk’s behavior. I applaud those venues who are requiring vaccines to attend shows. I hope that more and more do it until the unvaxxed have nowhere to go. These are the folks who are prolonging the pandemic. Hopefully they realize this sooner than later but I won’t hold my breath, well, maybe if I am in their presence I would. Bring your vaccination card with you everywhere, it’s like a VIP membership! Read on… 

The man with a cape and keyboards is headed to Fall River on October 19. Legendary Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman hits the Narrows Center for the Arts with his Even Grumpier Old Rock Star show. I spoke with Rick from his UK home last week via a Zoom call. Read that interview here: MotifRI.com For more about the show “Roundabout” to: NarrowsCenter.org Also coming up at the Narrows: Rodney Crowell, Leo Kottke, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Suzanne Vega, Samantha Fish and much more!

At the Knickerbocker in Westerly, Christine Ohlman headlines the Women’s Voices 4 show on Sunday October 10. Ohlman is the long-running vocalist for the Saturday Night Live Band and is known as “The Beehive Queen” for her towering blonde hairdo. Appearing with the Christine are Rebel Montez members: Cliff Goodwin, Lorne Entress, and Wolf Ginandes. The show begins at 2 pm and also features The CarLeans, Kala Farnham & Co., and Midnight Anthem. This show benefits the Rock and Roll Camp For Girls at the Institute For The Musical Arts (ima.org). For more, Muscle Shoals to KnickMusic.com 

Smithfield’s superstar Sarah Potenza returns to Rhode Island for a homecoming concert at The Met on October 23rd. Joining her for this show will be the Smithfield High School Chorus as well as Voice contestant Katie Kadan. Potenza was featured on The Voice and most recently America’s Got Talent. She has a big voice that will wow you every time! See what the buzz is all about. Also at the Met, on Sunday October 31 award-winning blues guitarist/singer Sue Foley will be playing songs from her newest release, Pinky’s Blues. For more, hit the “Road to Rome” to: TheMetRI.com 

Hiroya Tsukamoto is headed to Tiverton for an October 24th afternoon show. A guitarist and composer originally from Kyoto, Japan, Tsukamoto blends world music, jazz and folk that is described as “eclectic, immersive and mesmerizing”. Hiroya received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and came to the United States in 2000. He has since released three solo albums: Solo, Heartland, and Places. Hiroya has been performing internationally including several appearances at Blue Note(NYC), United Nations and Japanese National Television(NHK). This concert will take place on the Meeting House grounds located at 3850 Main Road. They ask that you please bring your own lawn chairs. For more, take the “Gemini Bridge” to: FourCornersArts.org 

Common Fence Music has two shows this month! Jake Blount will open Common Fence Music’s Fall 2021 series, at The CFP Arts, Wellness and Community Center in Portsmouth on Saturday, October 16th at 8pm. Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and scholar based in Providence. He is half of the internationally touring duo Tui, a 2020 recipient of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, and a board member of Bluegrass Pride. He is a two-time winner and many-time finalist of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop). Although he is proficient in multiple performance styles, he specializes in the music of Black and indigenous communities in the southeastern United States, and in the regional style of Ithaca, New York. He released his debut solo album, Spider Tales, in May 2020.

S.G. Goodman follows on Saturday, October 30th. Goodman performed at this summer’s Newport Folk Festival!. She was listed as one of Rolling Stone‘s “Artists to Watch”, describing her as “Kentucky farmer’s daughter writes songs so the world can hear what life is like where she grew up” Her bio goes on to add, “The singer’s music confronts the more painful parts of life in a farming community, much of which is governed by big business or political mechanisms that seek more to turn a profit than to value and support the lives of its employees.” For more about these and other shows this season, hop over to: CommonFenceMusic.org

The Collaborative, a nonprofit arts organization in Warren, will present Folk at the Farm, a free music concert featuring four Rhode Island-based music groups, on Sunday, October 17th from 2-6pm at Frerichs Farm, 43 Kinnicutt Ave. There will be performances by the award-winning and internationally acclaimed folk duo Atwater-Donnelly, Irish-influenced duo Bank of Ireland, the soulful, tropical sounds of Caribbean Jam Duo and high energy two steps and sultry waltzes from New England’s hometown Cajun band, Magnolia.  The Collaborative suggests bringing chairs and blankets as no seating will be provided. The Collaborative suggests bringing chairs and blankets as no seating will be provided. For more, get eh folk on over to: TheCollaborative02885.org/FolkAtTheFarm

That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

Theatre Review: All That Glitters

By Susan McDonald

Somewhere between the mermaid’s invitation to descend to the bottom of the sea and boos from the audience and cast for a Muppet-like effigy of Esek Hopkins, you realized this outdoor adventure was not a page from history books.

But, it was certainly an adventure.

The Wilbury Theatre Group opened its season with “The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins,” an original activist dance opera cultivated and performed by The Haus of Glitter Dance Company.

After living in Hopkins’ historic Providence home for a year, the company and Wilbury’s team transformed its grounds into a multi-stage set for the cast to expose Hopkins’ connections to the slave trade, superimposing conjured tales of what life might look like here had colonization never happened.

Photo by Erin X Smithers

The result was a fabulous fabulation extending beyond the trips Hopkins took to Africa to include the effects of colonization on Native Americans, Laotians and Hispanics. Further, it probed challenges facing women and the LGBTQ+ community. The goal was to push people to address and, eventually, abandon racism.

“We are not going to think our way out of racism,” said one character. “We are going to feel our way out of racism.”

While the objective may seem too all-encompassing, the Haus of Glitter team created an experience that made valuable points without preaching, instead using their beautiful voices to relay native stories and songs, and invigorating choreography to entertain.

During Act One, the audience moved around the grounds of the historic home through six mini stages and seven immigrant stories. Each unfurled like a fairy tale, with prose that was alternately chilling and poetic.

Standing before ribbons and flower garlands blowing on the September breeze, Matt Garza sang in Spanish about a Mexican woman drowning her child in the Rio Grande. His powerful voice rose with words that needed no translation to relay pain. Stories from a West African village were relayed in the audiobook-worthy voice of Assitan Coulibaly, a fairy tale with an unhappy ending.

On another stage, spotlights illuminated the lithe bodies of Trent Lee and Steven Choummalaithong as they offer traditional Native American and Laotian dances juxtaposed artfully with more modern break dancing, and a narrator talking of “the constant grief of colonization.”

“Have you ever seen a person explode? My family has,” the narrator said as Choummalaithong rubbed a haunting sound from a metal bowl. “We didn’t ask to be saved.”

The show took jabs at the White society invading foreign lands, then criminalizing immigrants for not conforming to their rules and branding them savage for resisting the changes.

“We were in pain. We were grieving. Most of all, we were angry,” said a narrator in Act Two, a time when all of those stories blended into vibrant dance and steel pan music on a larger, glittery stage.

Company members employed all of the outdoor space, using a stand of pine trees behind the stage as a screen for an original rap video about decolonization. Another narrator introduced dance numbers with folklore wisdom, such as the Malian expression “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

Anger, resentment and even violence has resulted from the oppression and colonization of foreign lands by White Americans like Hopkins, and while the cast inserts terms like “cishetero patriarchy” into “The Historical Fantasy,” this is not a hate-filled show. It’s positive and glows – or glitters – with hope.

Or, as the Latinx expression notes, “Se hace el camino al andar.” “We make the road by walking.”

The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins ran September 9-17 by The Haus of Glitter Dance Company + Performance Lab, The Wilbury Theatre Group, PRONK! Fest, and PVDFest, with support from Partnership for Providence Parks, & The RI Foundation at the former home of Esek Hopkins.

The Greening of Rhode Island: Ins and outs of our state fruit

The state fruit of this here place is the Rhode Island Greening apple, which you latin speakers might recognize as Malus Domestica. This tender crispy tart apple, with creamy and firm flesh, is renowned for its deliciousness in pies, sauces, and as a source for apple cider and even apple champagne.

An old Rhode Island legend has it that, in the 1700’s, one Metcalf Bowler came upon a Rhode Island Greening sapling in a small porcelain pot by way of a sea captain, who had rescued some prince of Persia, who as thanks for his safety, bestowed this small tree on his rescuer. Mr Bowler, it is said, is the gent who sat down with Lafayette and Washington and wooed them away from French wine with the much tastier apple champagne. 

More likely is the story that, sometime in the 1650’s, Mr. Green of Portsmouth, Rhode Island domesticated the variety in the back garden of his Inn there, known as Greene’s Inn.

This story has the mutation of “Greene’s Inn” to “greening” as the origin of the varietal’s name.

Regardless of origins and its fading recognition this state fruit is still grown in Rhode Island. Steere Orchard is one place that advertises availability. 

Remember, it is best as a cooking apple—Martha Stewart has declared it her favorite baking apple, but can be enjoyed fresh for it’s Granny Smith-like tartness that mellows with winter storage.

As you wander the sweet bounteous orchards of October perhaps you’ll keep a nostril open for the tart tell of the elusive Rhode Island Greening.

Look for the Rhode Island Greening at, Steere Orchard, 150 Austin Ave, Greenville

Ocean State Horror Lot: Famous Rhode Island Legends and Lore

Looking to flirt with reintroducing something spooky into your life? I present to you creepy Rhode Island stories – reader beware! 

The Legend of Mercy Brown

We begin with the New England Vampire Panic, and possibly the most infamous story that came from it. Featured on such podcasts as Lore, and in the film, Almost Mercy,  Mercy Lena Brown was a young woman who died of consumption in 1892. Her mother and elder sister died of the same illness some years before. 

Mercy passed at age 19, and her brother, Edwin, was dying of the illness mere months later. Having seen half of the Brown family nearly die due to tuberculosis, the townspeople of Exeter convinced the family patriarch, George, that one of the women was possibly not dead, but undead, and bringing the suffering upon their family—making Edwin sick. 

The townspeople persuaded George to allow them to exhume the bodies of the women. When they opened the crypt, they found that Mercy (having only died a few months earlier) was still relatively preserved, and still had blood in her heart. 

The logical conclusion was to jump to vampirism (though this term was used by The Providence Journal, and not locals). They burned her heart and liver, and then fed the ashes to Edwin in an effort to cure him. Edwin died less than two months later, and though it’s said to be of tuberculosis, I can’t imagine drinking ashes helped. 

Fiendish Footprints

Next we come to Satan himself, who has two potential hangouts here in Rhody. 

Devil’s Foot Rock in North Kingstown, features in multiple stories about a young woman fleeing from a pursuer – the devil himself. 

It is said that Satan himself decided to wed a Rhode Islander. After she resisted, he grabbed her by the wrist, and—with his hounds from hell—ran to a rock, jumped upon, and leapt into the air turning into a serpent in mid leap.  The rock is still there, though it was lost for some time until construction uncovered it. Maybe it was Satan himself trying to hide his footprint… 

Another story is that a woman kills a man in Wickford, and, while fleeing, comes upon a man who is entirely too calm about the situation. He reveals himself to be the devil, grabs the woman, flies into the air, and then drowns her. You can find his hoof print, and that of a woman’s in Wickford. 

A Rogue’s Island Ghost Ship

A ship named The Countess Augusta suffered terrible luck as it made its way to Block Island, with many dying before it reached New Shoreham.  There are many accounts of what happened, with some suggesting foul play, but the ship ran aground in 1738 on the northern point of the island during a snowstorm. 

One legend says that the residents of Block Island confused the ship, attempting to crash it so they could murder the passengers. Then they set the ship on fire to hide their crimes. You know, like you do. 

Since then, it is said that in wintertime on Block Island  you can see a burning ship, or a light that looks like a burning ship. Some believe that legend arose when John Greenleaf Whittier took the story and turned it into a poem, “The Palatine”. But  there are accounts of individuals seeing this light in the early 1800s, and Whittier’s poem was published in 1867.

Paranormal in Providence

Another legend, which is only going to be spooky depending on how much you love the state, focuses on the Providence Athenaeum. It’s said that the water fountain, which is inscribed with “come hither every one that thirsteth in front of the building,” is cursed. If you drink from it, you are destined to return to it. Many are unsure where the legend came from, with some suggesting that the OG spooky bitch, Edgar Allan Poe, cursed the fountain after his failed romance with Sarah Helen Whitman. That’s one we can debunk; the fountain was built two decades after his death. Still, no one knows where this curse came from, since the fountain itself was a donation from Athenaeum supporters. Though, after this pandemic, the fountain might need to find a new way to curse people that doesn’t involve a shared drinking space.

When it comes to legend and lore, the Providence Biltmore, now known as The Graduate, takes the cake. It is rumored to be one of the most haunted hotels in America.The Biltmore was built in 1922 and was financially backed by Johan Leisse Weisskopf, who legend now says was a satanist. There were whispers that he kept chickens on the roof, for slaughter of course, and that rooms were held for rituals.

If you want to go on a deep dive, try checking YouTube for videos of the paranormal happenings while guests have stayed in the hotel. Or, you know, you could stay there yourself – if you’re not too scared. 

Disclaimer: As with most legends and lore, while based on history, very little of the mystical can be verified. While you may see a ghost, ghost ship, or get stuck living in Providence the rest of your life, we cannot guarantee it, and ask that you not come for us. 

Caitlin Howle (she/they) is a writer, professor, and small business owner in Rhode Island. Her hobbies include researching obscure history, arguing the need for the Oxford Comma, and bothering her pug, Winston. Find her on Instagram @caitlinmoments. 


(This is the crypt where Mercy would have been kept) 

I also play Dodgeball next to the Graduate every Monday, I can get a photo then.)

Guildy Pleasures: Warren’s first brewpub

The smallest town in the smallest state, Warren, RI, which was once known by most as a blink on the way to Newport, has experienced a renaissance in recent years. With a plethora of quality restaurants, Warren has slowly become a dining destination for New Englanders. Adjacent to the town’s Main Street is Water Street, which overflows with eateries like The Square Peg, Revival Craft Kitchen and Bar, Bywater, and the fresh-faced “The Wharf”, formerly known as The Wharf Tavern. Perhaps the most obvious pillar of Warren’s recent renewal is The Tourister Mill. The once-luggage-factory is unmistakable when coming over the two bridges into town. Now a luxury apartment complex, the Tourister stands as a beacon of change for the town and is bringing in new businesses left and right. The latest to hit the scene is Pawtucket-based brewery The Guild.

When The Guild’s first location in Providence was destroyed by a fire, co-owner Jeremy Duffy wanted to move into the Tourister Mill building, but the property’s owners already had a long-term vision that included the new 99 Water Street Apartments. 

“So, we moved on to Pawtucket,” Duffy said. “It is amazing that several years later we are back in Warren, at the original spot, to open our first small-batch brewery and beer hall.” 

The Warren location is the third endeavor for the beer company, following their most recent launch on the Providence Pedestrian Bridge with The Guild PVD Beer Garden.

With 140 seats indoors, and 40 seats on the gorgeous patio facing the Palmer River, The Guild Warren is continuing to staff up and expects to employ roughly 30 people. Local hires include General Manager Ed Levy and Head Chef Stephen Lima, both from Bristol. 

Over a dozen beer selections are available, including multiple Guild originals such as the Observatory – Pale Ale, Isle of White – White IPA, and new brew Warren G – Double IPA. Other offerings include a new Pear Cinnamon Seltzer by Willie’s Superbrew and Chair 2 Light Lager by Sons of Liberty. 

In addition to the abundant drink line-up, Chef Lima has created a substantial list of mouth-watering appetizers and small bites. Flash Fried Tri-Color Cauliflower, Smoked Pork Belly Nachos, and a Quinoa Salad Bowl to name a few. For protein, an array of sliders are available including burgers, chicken, and roast beef. 

“The energy around us opening was incredible and it has not stopped,” said Duffy. “We have seen terrific crowds since day one…. The nicest thing is that our biggest fans have been the tenants of 99 Water Street and the American Tourister. We are grateful for that.” 

The Guild is reciprocating Warren’s warm welcome with plans to collaborate with the town’s many restaurants and vast art scene. “We want to use Warren as a place of innovation and collaboration around our beers. We have a terrific seven barrel brewhouse that is ready to be that platform,” says Duffy. 

The Guild Warren, 99 Water Street, Warren, RI. Currently open Wed through Sun. Visit their website @theguildwarren for times.

The Craftsman

He planned to fashion wind chimes
from their chipped long bones and dried sinews.
So many years spent in preparation —
he imagined the night breezes of autumn
producing a wild dark dance between
ulna, femur, and radius.
An elegy, a lament, 
          a lullaby.

And he did. In unlit corners
of his soundless basement. He carved,
drilled, screwed, and strung.
But the music generated
was disharmonious and clumsy,
not at all the melodic tribute he’d intended.
The chimes hung heavy on the branch
and flies chased each other between the empty spaces.
He began again, switching dry spine
with the dull spotted steel of his slicing tools.
Stringing the bloodstained blades, he saw them reflected
in the metal,
each knife an eternal mirrored trap of their open mouths,
hair plastered to cheeks by rivers of their tears.

Their mute screams caught the morning sun just right,
swaying from a rusty hook near his bedroom window
and when the winds of October came at last,
he slept peacefully, lulled into Nod
by their unanswered cries for rescue.

Patricia Gomes is the New Bedford poet laureate. patriciagomes.com

Rent Relief in RI: How to apply, progress report

Rent relief is available for RI tenants with applications accepted on the web – rihousing.com/rentreliefri – and successful applicants will receive grants that do not need to be paid back or counted as income. Money can cover back rent after April 1, 2020; up to three months of upcoming rent; a security deposit if needed; and utilities such as electricity, water, trash, and heat. Up to 18 months of assistance is available. Applications can be for rent, utilities, or both.

Applicants must have “area median income” (“AMI”) below certain limits that vary based upon location and household size; must have experienced reduction in income (including unemployment), incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the pandemic; and must be at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability (such as having unpaid back rent or an eviction notice).

RI Rent Relief program summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

There is a Rent Relief RI telephone call center, (855)608-8756 toll-free, operating Monday through Friday 8:30am–5:30pm and Saturday 8:00am–1:00pm. “All of our partner materials are available in English and Spanish. When you call the call center, you can get English, Spanish, and Portuguese help right away. You can get almost any other language if you say ‘I need this language’ and you hold for a few minutes; we use a language service at the call center. The application is available in, I don’t know, like 147 different languages, there’s just a toggle button at the top and you choose your language and that application appears there,” Christine Hunsinger, chief strategy and innovation officer at RI Housing, told Motif in an interview. “I’ve only, in the whole time we’ve been running this program, run into one instance where it took us a couple of days to find someone who spoke a very specific dialect of an African language. We had to go out of state for that. I don’t remember what it was called, but we did it. I will tell you it took way longer than I was comfortable with, but we can do most languages pretty quickly.”

RI Rent Relief approved application summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

RI Housing lists a number of non-profit partner organizations who can help applicants through the process, providing advice and counseling as well as services such as printing and scanning of documents. Statewide partners providing legal advice are the Center for Justice and Rhode Island Legal Services, and a number of other-than-legal services partners include the Center for Southeast Asians, Crossroads RI, ONE Neighborhood Builders, Tri-County Community Action Agency, East Bay Community Action Program, Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP), and Family Service of RI.

RI Rent Relief application summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)
RI Rent Relief geographical detail as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

Congress specifically made undocumented immigrants eligible for the rent relief program, Hunsinger said. “We work very closely with a number of partners who work in the undocumented community because they’re eligible, too, and folks who are undocumented tend to be hesitant about government programs, and we want them to come in and apply.” Where documents are lacking, she said, the program allows for self-attestation and even waiver of the requirement. “We don’t ask anybody their status…I run into quite a few partners who will call me and say, ‘Look, I’ve got an undocumented family, but they don’t have a photo ID.’ And so I just waived it. They’re working with the family, they they’re involved with the family, and they help them fill out the forms, and they tell me what they can’t provide. And they tell me why and we waive. It is one of the few programs. There were a lot of federal programs during the pandemic that folks who were undocumented were not eligible for. This one they are eligible for, but it’s not simple. You have to have to gain a community’s trust that doesn’t doesn’t trust the government. So it’s hard, and that’s where those on the ground partners are so important.”

Hunsinger said RI Housing has invested heavily in technology to process applications and report on the status of the program. As of a few weeks ago, “All the documents can be signed electronically on the computer. We actually had the the technology company upgrade it. It used to be that you had to download the attestation and fill it out and scan it back in, but now you can do it right in the [web] system so you don’t require a printer,” she said. “As far as scanning documents into the system, you can do that, or you can upload them from your computer. The other thing you can do is take a picture on your phone, because we know a lot of folks have cell phones and they’re they’re quite good with them. You can e-mail it to either your caseworker or e-mail it to a partner who can upload it for you. So we’ll take it any way we can get it.”

According to the program “dashboard” Hunsinger said is updated every weekday morning, as of Oct 1 there have been 11,795 accounts created and 6,149 completed applications, with $31,181,986 paid to 3,768 landlords and $2,770,035 paid to 657 tenants. RI Housing also maintains a web report on evictions in the state.

“The federal government requires a prioritization system, so the people who have eviction notices, who have been out of work the longest, and who have the least income, go first,” Hunsinger said. “We think the eviction notice piece is particularly important, because if you’ve got a hearing, we want to try to pay that out and prevent that hearing from going forward so that you can stay in your home.”

RI Evictions, page 1 of 2, as of Aug 31, 2021.
(Source: RI Supreme Court)
RI Evictions, page 2 of 2, as of Aug 31, 2021.
(Source: RI Supreme Court)

Processing is now very quick, Hunsinger said. “From the time it’s assigned to a case manager, we’ll do all of our outreach attempts within 10 days. The landlord we contact three times within five days and, if they don’t respond, then we can make it direct pay to tenants, and the tenants get 10 days to respond to our our outreach efforts and provide what they need” to complete an application. “At the end of 10 days, you’ve either completed the application and we have what we need to make a determination, then we either approve or deny it based on your eligibility, or you haven’t done that, and haven’t responded and we’ll deny it.”

Changes authorized from the federal level have simplified the process, Hunsinger said, eliminating much of the initial complexity. “We asked you about your income because it is a means-tested program. If you live in a qualified census tract – that’s a [US Housing and Urban Development] designation – where the majority of renters are 80% of area median income or below, we don’t ask you for income documentation anymore. That’s one of the changes that we’ve made to make it simpler. So if you live in one of those areas who don’t have to provide proof of your income.” The web site should automatically determine from the applicant address whether the census tract exemption applies, she said. A similar exemption applies to anyone on a qualifying government assistance program, she said, including SNAP (“food stamps”), WIC, RI Works.

“The [RI] program has not been without its problems. We came up and we had a technology failure, we had to procure a new vendor and start over. So I understand that there’s been a backlog and a lag in processing. We learn stuff. Every time we interact with a group of people, we take their feedback very seriously. We have made a number of changes to make it simpler to make it more accessible. We’ve increased our presence in the community. So aside from those partners, we do on-site events. Last night, we were at an addiction clinic in Pawtucket, where folks from Pawtucket could come and get help completing their application. If we could get it finished there, we had somebody there and could look at it and approve it. We could start applications with with folks who hadn’t started yet. So we’ve done a number of things: really, really pushed it so that we are more accessible, more present and make it easier on the on the folks who need the money.”

The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021, contained a wide variety of pandemic economic relief programs, but a major provision allocated $21.6 billion to forestall evictions of tenants behind on their rent and $10 billion to homeowners behind on their mortgages, as well as $4.5 billion to those behind on utility payments. A study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimates that by December 2021 such debt nationally will reach $18.6 billion for 2 million households, which is 6% of all households, with an average of $9,300 per household.

Trolling RI Pols: Bullying public officials for doing the right thing

The Rhode Island arm of the national right-wing foundations — Koch, Bradley, Scaife, and others — have targeted Jennifer Lima, a school committee member in North Kingstown, with totally ridiculous accusations about critical race theory, marxism, and brainwashing impressionable minds. 

The Gaspee Project, a secretive conservative Rhode Island political group, is funding the gathering of signatures for a recall election against Lima.  A statewide non-profit, associated with the “RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity,” Gaspee is trying to make Lima into a statewide issue. The front page of their web site currently features a hysterical screed against her, “Extremists have taken over the Democrat Party…don’t let them come for you next!” Dig deeper and you come to another blare: “Stop the Indoctrination of our Children! Help us remove the pro-CRT & Marxist school committee member.” (“CRT” here stands for “critical race theory.”)

An inflammatory postcard mailing accused Lima of corruption, abuse of power and trying to “organize a group of Marxists to indoctrinate our children with defund the police propaganda and divisive racial and gender theories.” In fact, the recall petition against her cites only “opinions that her constituents do not share.”

Lima’s central offense is simply having the temerity to call for giving all students a fair shake, and to ask the schools to look at the ways in which some students might not get one. Running on that platform, she got more votes last fall than any other local candidate.

Lima is not pushing to bring CRT into NK schools. In fact, to climb down into the weeds for a moment, she disagrees with CRT theorists who claim that racism is inevitable because of the structure of our society. She says it is not, but it takes people with awareness and sensitivity to eradicate it. Ms. Lima ran on the premise that our classrooms need to be a place where being anti-racist is actively taught and is an expected part of the learning culture, and that is how we will build a world where all children are equally able to reach their potential.

She believes students deserve to be presented with age-appropriate, accurate lessons on historical and contemporary issues that help them become the critical thinkers we need to make this a more just and equitable nation.

As a matter of policy, the Gaspee Project and its associated Center for Freedom and Apple Pie squawk if you ask who their donors are, but they have received hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade from the Donors Trust, a pass-through non-profit whose purpose seems only to be anonymizing the hundreds of millions of dollars that pass through it. Donors Trust is a creation of the Koch network, funded by Koch money.  The Center for Freedom and Apple Pie will doubtless call this a lie, but they will also refuse to provide any kind of accounting of their donors that might demonstrate otherwise. They do not dispute their membership in various networks of Koch-funded right-wing organizations, like the State Policy Network, an association of “think tanks”, whose website suggests removing restrictions on for-profit hospitals as the first priority for dealing with the coronavirus.

Nonprofits like the Gaspee Project are classified as “social welfare organizations” and are allowed to do public education, but are not allowed to participate in elections. But the rules for recall elections are vague and do not restrict the signature-gathering period. So, this local arm of national dark money feels free to tamper with our school committee.

This is sad, and nothing more than an attempt to bully a school committee member, who manages both to embrace her serious purpose and remain full of joy. Their goal is to make an example of her, to discourage others like her from seeking elective office. 

Harassment and bullying just like this is why Emily Cummiskey resigned as South Kingstown’s School Committee chair in June, and Christie Fish left the committee altogether. Mission accomplished in SK, they move on to NK, looking for another scalp.

If you’d like to see the Gaspee Project Screed, visit gaspeeproject.com/recall

Read more about the Donors Trust on Senator Whitehouse’s web site: whitehouse.senate.gov/news/speeches/time-to-wake-up-277-donors-trust

And here: sourcewatch.org/index.php/DonorsTrust

If you’d like to support Jennifer Lima in her efforts to resist the trolls, please contribute here: secure.actblue.com/donate/lima4nk