By CHRISTOPHER GAVIN

After nearly four years of lobbying and months of wading through bureaucracy, construction has finally begun on a small development of 45 “rapidly deployable” pallet homes to help Rhode Island’s homeless community — the first of its kind in the Ocean State.

The $3.3 million project in Providence, known as “ECHO Village,” led by the Warwick-based nonprofit House of Hope and the Department of Housing, received its building permit on June 7, said Matthew Touchette, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation.

The green light came weeks after other approvals for safety, energy and plumbing at the site — located on Victor Street at a Route 146 on-ramp — were received from the Building Codes Standards Committee, Emily Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing, wrote in an email.

“After these approvals were granted, work resumed at ECHO Village and we are now on track to open in the fall and winter,” Marshall wrote.

That latest timeline comes months after earlier forecasts suggested the village would be operational by the end of March — a timeframe that was later pushed back to May or June as supply chain issues and bureaucratic processes played out, reports earlier this year indicated.

Now that ECHO Village is finally taking shape, Laura Jaworski, executive director of House of Hope, is feeling a certain “reserved excitement,” she said.

As the project progresses to this point, the homeless community in the region continues to have pressing and urgent needs. Even once construction is complete, ECHO Village will need additional approvals from state regulators before the first relocations begin.

Time, Jaworski said, is “not on our side.”

“We have to keep the safety of human life high,” she said, referring to the permit and code approval process. “I just had more optimism that we could move through that process a little bit quicker than we ended up doing.”

House of Hope began operating in the village in some form or another in August 2020 to provide shelter for the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the years since, the state’s homelessness problems have only worsened.

A report this year from the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness found that the number of homeless people in the state will increase by 25 percent in 2024 compared to the previous year.

And in the past four years, the homeless population has more than doubled: in 2020, the total number of homeless people was 1,104, according to coalition statistics. This year, that number is 2,442.

The 6.5 square meter residential units that make up ECHO Village are built with just enough space for a double bed and provide warmth and security.

The pallet homes, along with other structures such as bathrooms and showers, laundry facilities and offices, arrived in Providence in January from Washington-based manufacturer Pallet Shelters. Much of last spring was spent obtaining necessary approvals and working through any needed code variances or assistance from state regulators, Jaworksi said.

All told, Jaworski noted how she and other advocates have seen other cities and towns across the country deploy these types of “rapidly deployable units” at a faster pace. In Boston, for example, a similar process took 100 days, Jankorski said.

“The reality is, my outreach team on the streets is seeing firsthand the growing need and demand for safe, dignified shelter — for safe, affordable housing,” she said. “And to feel that in real time is a very difficult place to be.”

The parties involved in the project want to ensure that ECHO Village is safe for its residents and the community, Jaworski said, and no corners were cut.

“But I think we also really need to make sure that we are creative and try to solve this problem together so that we don’t lose track of time,” she said.

So far, the project has spent about a third of its $3.3 million budget — a “no-frills” figure that covers everything from the units themselves to post-construction shelter maintenance, such as food and staffing costs, Jaworski said.

Jawroski’s team is now working to calculate the cost of making a number of updates to meet state regulators’ requirements, including fire-retardant paint and a dry fire suppression system that will be required for every structure, she said.

Once ECHO Village is complete, House of Hope will manage the day-to-day operations of the shelter. That includes case management for every resident there, “with an eye toward moving people into housing, whatever that looks like,” Jaworski said.

“Being able to set up something like ECHO Village and open it up will really improve the lives of these 45 people, and will really put Rhode Island on the map in its ability to respond creatively to the crisis,” she said.