Health Care

Activists march on State House to demand end to unsheltered homelessness

Activists are asking Rhode Islanders to call Governor McKee at (401) 222-2080 and ask him why so many individuals and families are sleeping outside and tell him to act to provide roofs over the heads of unsheltered Rhode Islanders.

Published on October 3, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Those who have experienced homelessness and activists from the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP), Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), and Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) gathered at Burnside Park in Providence on Monday morning to demand that Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee immediately address the unsheltered homelessness crisis. After a brief speaking program there was a march to the Rhode Island State House, where activists entered the Governor’s state room and demanded accountability.

For his part, Governor McKee was across town at Crossroads Rhode Island’s Celebration of Housing, where state and federal politicians celebrated record investments in housing, ignoring the record number of people who are sleeping outside.

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, in the two weeks ending September 24, approximately 405 individuals have been reported as living outside (unsheltered) in Rhode Island, including 57 households with children. This is five times the average number of Rhode Islanders forced outside prior to the COVID pandemic, and it is likely an undercount as there is not sufficient outreach workers to contact all of those living in the estimated 80+ encampments. Those in need of shelter cannot get it because there are hundreds on waiting lists for emergency shelter as winter approaches, say advocates. 

“As a state, we are now institutionalizing unsheltered homelessness,” said Professor Eric Hirsch of Providence College, who Co-Chairs the state’s Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee. “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we generally had under 100 people staying outside. Since the beginning of 2022 that number has increased to 405. We need Governor McKee to address this urgent crisis by declaring a State of Emergency and by finding locations for shelter beds. If people had lost their homes due to a hurricane or a fire, they would not be left outside with nowhere to go.”

Activists demanded that Governor McKee:

  1. Immediately declare a State of Emergency and find buildings and outdoor spaces for 500 shelter beds. The estimated cost is $12.2 million for the first year. The Governor’s October 30 announcement of funding for shelter beds is just a plan, say advocates, even as they thanked the Governor for the effort. It does not address the “Not in My Backyard” shelter bed siting issues and it does not immediately open any beds. 
  2. Provide $2.8 million in flexible funding to facilitate the housing of 420 individuals and families who would otherwise enter the emergency shelter system. Housing problem solving programs have a proven record of success in Rhode Island.  
  3. Establish a well-planned funded path for these constituents to be placed in permanent housing. The Governor must find creative ways to quickly create 500 new permanent supportive and deeply subsidized housing units. 
  4. Start spending the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that are available to fund these initiatives and address this urgent crisis. 

Activists are further asking Rhode Island voters to call Governor McKee at (401) 222-2080 and ask him why so many individuals and families are sleeping outside and tell him to act to provide roofs over the heads of unsheltered Rhode Islanders.

“This is more about moral revival and not dehumanizing the homeless,” said organizer Terri Wright of DARE’s Tenants and Homeowners Association. “They have suffered enough. Time was wasted and turned into to amputations last winter. Drug use is on the rise, mental illness is on the rise, because of the trauma of life out on the streets. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“This is oddly reminiscent of a year ago, where we were here calling for the same thing that we are now,” said C.J. Miller, an advocate for homeless youth. “They tell us to go to school. To get a job, and all of your housing issues will be taken care of. I’m here representing young voices who are in school, who have dropped out of school, because they’re homeless…”

Senator Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence) spoke about people in her district that are housing friends and family who would otherwise be homeless. “Everyday compassionate Rhode Islanders are filling the gap for the negligent, cruel and absentee that we have in this state.”

Brandon Hong spoke to the crowd before leading the march to the State House.

The march:

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Inside the Governor’s State Room, on the second floor of the State House, Brandon Hong led a series of chants.

Senator Cynthia Mendes led those in attendance in song.

C.J. Miller asked that we not forget the youth homelessness crisis.

Professor Eric Hirsch of Providence College, quoted above.

Terri Wright closed it out.

Eric Hirsch

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