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A vigil for the recently housed Steve Sceeles, and a plea to do more for homelessness in Rhode Island



Advocates lament a life cut short and the reality that so many of our fellow Rhode Islanders remain unhoused. A call is made for the state to provide the resources needed to ensure that its commitment to Housing First is realized.

Steve Sceeles wasn’t homeless the night he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on June 9, on Pearl Street in Providence. He also wasn’t sleeping in a crossroad when the car hit him, said his friends and advocates, who had gathered in the parking lot of Salvation Army on Broad Street on Friday afternoon to remember their friend.

Sceeles, 61 years old, had lived a long time on the streets, but had recently found housing. Despite that, he often spent time on the streets with friends who remain homeless.

“He would come in every day,” said BobbieJo Anderson, who works at Crossroads. “Singing songs to me every day. His favorite song was “Do Wah Diddy” from Manfred Man. He’s just going to be missed.

“He was a happy guy. I mean, he was always in a good mood, cheery, just happy. Always smiling, always singing. A very good guy.”

When she heard the news that Sceeles had been killed, Anderson was devastated. “I was crying. I’m still upset.”

Megan Smith and Sara Melucci

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“I think that Steve’s death is of course tragic in its own right but it’s also tragic as an exemplar of so many things that happen to so many people,” said Megan Smith, an outreach worker for House of Hope. “I think that this community is literally overlooked, literally not paused for, not looked at, dehumanized.

“That’s the kind of thing that allows someone to hit a person and keep going,” continued Smith. “You don’t see them as a person in that moment and I think that at its root that has a lot to do with why our state hasn’t done more to end homelessness. It’s because we don’t fundamentally honor their humanity – we are not willing to put in the work to see this community as the wonderful community of people, as human beings and to do what we collectively can do to truly integrate them into our neighborhoods, into out communities.

“There’s nothing fundamentally different about anyone who’s experiencing homelessness than anyone who is housed,” concluded Smith. “The true issue is structural. People who are born poor, who are born with disabilities, who are born as people of color or [born into any] other kinds of marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by homelessness. So it’s bad luck, but also all of these deep structural factors that I don’t think we often use language to talk about.”

“We’re out here all the time and he was someone that we had a really good relationship with,” said Sara Melucci, another outreach worker at House of Hope. “Steve was really a people person and he loved to sing and we were always singing along with him out here. He was such a likeable guy and someone that everyone knew and loved and enjoyed talking with.

“There was a real joy in you can’t quite describe, but he carried that with him everywhere he went and in any circumstance. That brought so much joy to all of us. I think that’s why his passing is felt so broadly by so many of us.”

Housing First means that the first goal when working with a person or family experiencing homelessness is to get them into housing as quickly as possible. This requires funding, funding the Rhode Island General Assembly is loathe to allocate.

Here is video from the vigil. Of particular interest is video 4, where Zach Kenyon of the Providence Fire Department plays some audio of Sceeles’ singing.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.