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City councilors urge empathy and community solidarity for relocated NYC families experiencing homelessness



Four city councilors representing three Rhode Island cities today issued a letter in support of six families relocated from New York City to Rhode Island. Pawtucket City Councilmember Meghan Kallman (Ward 5), Providence City Councilmember Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12), Woonsocket City Councilmember At-Large Alex Kithes and Providence City Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13) signed onto the letter that takes exception to comments made by local politicians since the New York Post revealed the details of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Special One-Time Assistance Program.”

Under the program, homeless families are given a full year’s rent. That money does not mean that these families have to leave the state, but many have, with a reported six families having come to Rhode Island.

The letter from the city councilors reads:

“As members of City Council from Woonsocket, Providence, and Pawtucket, we are concerned about recent statements released by elected officials in response to the news of New York City relocating six families to Rhode Island- including one family to Woonsocket and three families to Providence.

“We agree that Mayor DiBlasio’s office should be in communication with Rhode Island officials, especially to give state and community organizations an opportunity to coordinate support if needed. But as elected leaders, we want to send a clear message of welcome and hope to the six families who have relocated to our communities, who are only trying to build a better life for themselves and their children.

“People experiencing homelessness are people. It is dehumanizing and hurtful to talk about them as a burden, as undesirable members of our community. Especially at this moment in time, where wealth inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and the growing crisis of climate change mean that, for the vast majority of working class families, one medical emergency or natural disaster is all that separates us from homelessness and economic hardship.

“As the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless puts it, “a safe secure affordable home is a foundational need; stability is virtually impossible without it.” As local elected officials, we want to make clear that we believe in our communities, especially in our communities’ ability to be transformational to the lives of our newest residents. That means advocating for economic and social support, and job creation and workforce development as well. We believe that our communities must be resilient and strong to support the stability of our residents, and as we welcome our new neighbors, we’re doubling down on that commitment.

“Families who have come to Rhode Island through the NYC program receive a year’s assistance through NYC’s Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) Program and must meet specific requirements, including proof that they can pay up to 50 percent of their income towards rental housing after that year. That’s a very high standard.

“These families are not currently receiving housing resources from Rhode Island; every penny comes from NYC’s SOTA Program. However, if elected officials are this worried about our social service system being able to assist six new families, then we need to do a better job of fixing it. Woonsocket and Providence are warm, welcoming communities where people want to move, and we should be very proud of that. Let’s work together to create a system where all members of our communities – all Rhode Islanders – can succeed.

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“As City Councilors, we work regularly with homeless advocacy and service organizations to support their efforts, to support Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, and to work towards long term policy solutions that reduce homelessness. And to our new families, please allow us to say: Welcome to Rhode Island! Welcome to Woonsocket & Providence & Pawtucket! You’ve been through a lot of hardship, and we wish you all the best as you start this new chapter in your life. Please don’t hesitate to contact us as your city councilors and neighbors.”

Undersigned in solidarity,

Alex Kithes, Woonsocket City Council At-Large
Rachel Miller, Providence City Council Ward 13
Katherine Kerwin, Providence City Council Ward 12
Meghan Kallman, Pawtucket City Council Ward 5

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.