Caitlin Frumerie: We simply don’t have enough housing

In the afternoon after the news broke that the Administration of Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee was forcibly evicting people camping on State House grounds, Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director at Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness spoke to the press to advocate for more resources for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness.

Rhode Island News: Caitlin Frumerie: We simply don’t have enough housing

December 8, 2022, 12:42 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

In the afternoon after the news broke that the Administration of Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee was forcibly evicting people camping on State House grounds, Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director at Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness spoke to the press to advocate for more resources for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness.

Full transcript after the video:

RI Homeless Coalition's Caitlin Frumerie on State House Encampment Eviction

Caitlin Frumerie: We are out here today because this morning the State of Rhode Island issued an order to have all of the Rhode Islanders that are currently living [on the State House plaza] be out within 48 hours. A lot of them have already been kind of pressured to leave and are leaving. So we’re here to raise awareness that there are around 80 encampments across this state. This is one of many. We don’t have enough housing, we don’t have enough shelter, and you really can’t clear an encampment with 48 hours notice without more supports and resources available.

And what about the other 79 encampments we have that are outside? We have over/close to 500 people living outside on any given night and certainly not enough resources to put them into shelter or other places to stay.

Press: What’s your message to the people who are staying out here who got that notice this morning?

Caitlin Frumerie: Just keep the faith. I mean, I can’t even imagine. Any of you, put yourself in the position that you might lose your home or experience homelessness and then you have to find another place to stay. For some of them, this may be the first of many. So what ends up happening is they’re in a tent here, a tent there, a couch there – finally, they’re staying here [at the State House] and then they’re told to leave with such short notice, without a real sense of where they can go.

The coalition runs the hotline that helps connect people with shelter. I feel like I run a 911 where I don’t have enough police and ambulances. And what happened today was, “All of the people at this place, we’re going to send the firetrucks here,” but what about the other 500 people that I have, in need, around the state? What this ends up doing is it skips the line for some people. We have so many people in need, we don’t have enough resources, and we can’t just focus on this one encampment. There are Rhode Islanders all over the state who are living outside in their cars and really just trying to make a life for themselves and survive day-to-day.

Press: The word “eyesore” has been thrown around a lot. And the governor earlier today said that they’re moving the inauguration inside. Do you think that this eviction has anything to do with that? The governor said that it had nothing to do with that and it was bitter cold, but do you think that those two have any sort of connection?

Caitlin Frumerie: I’m not going to speak to that, but I think any Rhode Islander trying to survive isn’t an eyesore.

Uprise RI: You spoke about “skipping the line.” There’s a system called the Coordinated Entry System (CES) that you use to prioritize the order in which people can access shelter. How were the shelter beds given out this morning? My understanding is that CES had nothing to do with finding these shelters, all of a sudden, for the people who just happened to be at this location.

Caitlin Frumerie: I can’t speak to all of the places that people go [to secure housing because] again, people can choose to go where they’re going to go. Some providers may make space available, but like I said, I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for a shelter bed and calling. There’s some people that we are able to get into shelter and we’ve done that this morning. But the 500 people that are outside, we don’t have enough room for all of them. What then ends up happening is it feels like this last minute grab to try to get everybody into resources when really you wanted to try to transition an encampment or change it around. You need the time to strategically make that happen and not have an inequitable allocation of resources.

I’m not necessarily saying that’s what’s happening here, but I want to make sure that we’re focusing on all the Rhode Islanders that are outside tonight and trying to access services and not just the couple that are here because we really do have a problem statewide.

Uprise RI: And for clarity, CES hasn’t been messed with in any way?

Caitlin Frumerie: No, we’re abiding by coordinated entry. We are abiding by the policies that have been set forth by our community and that are mandated by the federal government.

Uprise RI: So no one got bumped up to the top of the CES list?

Caitlin Frumerie: We have maintained our policies and procedures. But again, some people can find another place to stay. The issue is, it’s all a band-aid. Really, the systemic issue is that we don’t have enough housing. Think about how much it costs to rent in the State of Rhode Island. A two bedroom is close to $1,700. You need to make $70,000 a year to afford that. The average renter makes close to $40,000 a year and people experiencing homelessness, over half of them, make nothing. And then another third make between $6,000 and $12,000 a year, right? You’d need an apartment for $200 a month. That doesn’t exist in Rhode Island.

Press: On a day like today where it’s pretty disgusting outside, there’s a lot of rain and everything, getting people out of the tents might seem like it’s a great idea. Getting them into emergency shelters. So is there maybe, I don’t know, kind of a blessing in disguise with this?

Caitlin Frumerie: We don’t have the beds.

Press: That’s the biggest issue.

Caitlin Frumerie: We don’t have the beds. We don’t have the beds. You might be able to get some people inside, but I keep coming back to this: We have close to 500 people living outside. I don’t have 500 beds available.

Press: Here at the State House, they mentioned around 17 to 20 people were living here and they’re going to try to get beds for everybody living here. There might be enough to cover people here. But you’re saying across the state…

Caitlin Frumerie: …there is not enough. That 17-20 was were here this morning, a lot of people go to community meals. You might have people that walked away to go to a doctor’s appointment. To get a bite to eat and step away. Imagine how many of you were at your homes at 8am this morning. You probably have a job or you went out to go do something. There just simply isn’t enough beds across the board. And that’s really what I want to come back to: We need more resources, and honestly, we need more housing. And I think my big concern, aside from all of the Rhode Islanders, including the people here, is just what kind of example does this set? We had the opportunity, with the people living here, to do this with grace, in the right way.

Across the state we’re fighting battles about NIMBYism: Not In My BackYard. And this is the state’s backyard. We had an opportunity to make sure that everybody here was cared for and connected, set an example about how all of our communities in the state can say, “You know what, any Rhode Islander living outside is unacceptable and we want to make sure that there are resources and shelter and housing for everyone.” I look forward to working with the governor and the state on that as we have done and will continue to do. But we’re not there yet. We have a lot of work to do.

Press: There’s a rumor around the State House that today was essentially a reaction to the the terrible optics, if you will, of the Christmas Tree lighting. Have you heard that?

Caitlin Frumerie: I don’t know that I could speculate on that. What I can speak to is the issues that people experiencing homelessness are facing, the work that we’re trying to do, the work that needs to happen. But honestly, I don’t know that I could speculate on that and be accurate and I want to make sure that I’m accurate.

Press: Is there any legal standard for State House employees handing out eviction notices?

Caitlin Frumerie: I am not an attorney, I’m a humble social worker. But I will say that the ACLU and others are looking into this as a violation of the Homeless Bill of Rights, and that was something that was passed in State Law under a prior governor and there is concern that [the actions today] are a violation of that. I think this isn’t the last of what you’ll hear about it, but, like I said, this problem is pervasive around the state and I just wish we’d done better.

Uprise RI: Do you have an idea of best practices for doing something like this the right way?

Caitlin Frumerie: Certainly. One of the big challenges that we’re facing is winter, so we’re having a lot of inclement weather and honestly, if you ask somebody experiencing homelessness, they hate rain sometimes more than they hate the snow because snow you can shovel away. Yes it’s cold but it’s the water that’s really hard. It seeps into your tent and it soaks everything. You can’t get dry. So the way to do this right is strategically – with a lot of planning and forethought and a lot of partnership and inclusion of different stakeholders – making sure that the service providers have what they need to deploy strategies. Most communities are planning for next year’s winter and making sure there are places coming online. We had called for a lot of resources in the summer for shelter and housing, and unfortunately those weren’t all received.

I don’t want to say that there wasn’t anything done – We’re grateful for what came but it wasn’t enough. And now it’s hard to deploy stuff really quickly. You need that time. This is a public health crisis and it really necessitates a state of emergency and treating it like the emergency that it is. My fear is that we’re going to have people die and we have people die every year. But this is really a public health emergency.

Press: Do you think the Cranston Street Armorlter location is sufficient?

Caitlin Frumerie: The solution is you’ve got to have a lot of tools in your toolbox to address homelessness. It’s different types of shelter for different types of needs. You’ve got to be considerate to families who may be trying to get their kids in school districts that aren’t in Providence or aren’t in Cranston. You’ve got to be considerate of people who may have medical needs, that need to stay near their physicians or away from trouble in a congregate shelter. Some people have oxygen they need to plug in and that’s difficult to do in a large setting. So you need to have a multitude of options and be addressing the issue from all sides.

Press: What is day shelter availability like here in Rhode Island?

Caitlin Frumerie: I don’t have a ton of information on me about day shelters. That’s probably something I could get back to you on. There are some day shelters that are more associated with the medical community and there are certain places that open as warming centers. But it’s not enough and really, you probably wouldn’t need as many day shelters if everybody had a house.

Press: What was the number one priority for your coalition when you found out about this on the news this morning? What was the discussion like?

Caitlin Frumerie: It was first shock and sadness for the people that are here, having another trauma they are experiencing, and then just trying to figure out what we can do. Honestly, at the Coalition, with the exception of the call center, which is a really hard job, we kind of have the easy work. We get to go to the State House and advocate. We run databases. The people doing the hard work, the case managers and the outreach workers that are out here, Crossroads, House of Hope, Amos House, all these organizations have staff that have been working with these clients, some of them for months if not years, to try to get housing. And it’s just unfortunate that this is where we are today, that this is how I’m spending it.

Uprise RI: And have you been in communication at all with the administration or anybody from the administration?

Caitlin Frumerie: We’ve had communication throughout the day. I think we’re trying to keep a relationship that’s as cordial and interactive as we can because we still have Coordinated Entry and databases that need to get run. But we’ve made it clear that this is not how we would have hoped it would have gone.

Press: There was a gentleman here today that told me that 9am Friday he is not leaving the plaza. That letter that they handed out today, it said that you could be subject to fines or an arrest. Are you going to be here 9am Friday and what’s your message to people when it comes to that deadline?

Caitlin Frumerie: I really think it’s a Homeless Bill of Rights violation and that’s where the ACLU and other organizations are getting involved, to help protect the rights of individuals that may be infringed. Again we support Rhode Islanders to find housing and basic needs where they can. I mean, you’ve got to survive.

Press: Was there any advance notice to your group or any advocacy agencies about today’s activity?

Caitlin Frumerie: I can’t speak to notice for other individuals, so it’s hard for me to say. We were kind of learning about this with everybody else. I think we had slight advanced notice, but again, this was a surprise.

Press: Do terrible surprises like this end up putting people’s health more at risk?

Caitlin Frumerie: Anybody living outside is in a health crisis. Anyone that is experiencing the stress of homelessness, that doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from, that is having to be relocated for whatever reason. It could be that you live in section eight and you’re doubled up and you can only stay too weeks because of limitations from the housing authority. The trauma: all of us complain when we have to move apartments. Imagine living in a tent and having to relocate all of your things.