Health Care

Candidates for Governor respond to McKee’s lack of action on homelessness crisis

The silence of the McKee Administration prompted UpriseRI to reach out to those candidates (who have submitted campaign finance reports) challenging the Governor in the 2022 election. UpriseRI received responses from State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Dr Luis Daniel Muñoz…
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Published on November 10, 2021
By Uprise RI

“Homelessness and housing, where does that fit into this?” asked Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee to the over 80 people attending the fourth public outreach event for his RI2030 plan in Westerly on Tuesday. The Governor was only in the room for a few minutes before he left, leaving the meeting to Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos.

The Governor’s rhetorical question wasn’t answered directly. In his introduction Secretary Pryor presented the need for housing as a priority without getting into specifics, and James Comer, Deputy Director of RI Housing, said a few things about investing in housing “at all levels.”

“Our goal, is by the beginning of the next decade to have a growing and affordable housing stock,” said Comer.

Of course, the beginning of the next decade is a long wait for those experiencing homelessness now. Little to nothing was said about the record levels of homelessness being experienced in Rhode Island.

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the last 30 days 642 individuals have been reported as living outside in Rhode Island and there are 1,078 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelter including 593 adults, and 485 individuals in 152 families with children.

As has been the case at virtually all of the Governor’s RI2030 meetings, advocates for the homeless were present, making their case for the need to do more.

Advocates continue to press the Governor to:

  1. …declare a state of emergency and must immediately mobilize a taskforce to find sites for shelter beds including ECHO Village.
    • The taskforce must find creative ways to generate 500 new permanent supportive housing units.
  2. …use $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act HOME dollars to fund diversion programs to keep people from having to seek emergency shelter.

The silence of the McKee Administration prompted UpriseRI to reach out to those candidates (who have submitted campaign finance reports) challenging the Governor in the 2022 election. UpriseRI received responses from State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Dr Luis Daniel Muñoz. Matt Brown‘s campaign responded that they are working on their comprehensive housing policy and will release it at a later date.

Candidate Luis Daniel Muñoz:

“We are in a state of emergency in Rhode Island. People are in need of shelter, and housing is a human right! The current administration continues to deflect its responsibility to address homelessness in Rhode Island. The ARPA funds can be used to solve homelessness in Rhode Island, but I agree that we should take immediate steps to identify how many people are experiencing homelessness in the state. It takes a village, and as such, we should be working with organizations that have been conducting related mutual aid work, and data collection, on the ground. We must allocate funds to support a coalition of organizations doing this work. While we should assess how many people are living outside, I also believe that it is important to assess how many people are homeless and residing within another person’s residence for temporary shelter. We should go beyond HUD’s current definition of homeless to quantify the true need that we have in this state.

“Why is this an essential step? Because we must leverage RI Housing and the rent relief support program to address these immediate funding needs. However, RI Housing has stated that it can only utilize 10% of the funds dispersed to support people (i.e., applications approved) to support administrative costs. With that said, as a result of not funding community driven clinics to assess the actual need for housing assistance, RI Housing and Governor McKee continue to rationalize the slow usage of funds as related to ‘low demand.’

“Community driven clinics could serve as a vehicle to work with paid community volunteers to assess homelessness and housing support need. This is one instrument that we can use to support people experiencing homelessness this winter given that the Rent Relief program’s funds can be used to provide rent support for those persons for several months. The Governor has the power to dictate the terms of how RI Housing will address administrative costs, and there are still millions of dollars available. The long-term solution must involve greater investments in public housing, shelters, and social programs that can support the healthcare, food, transportation, work, and educational needs of people who have the right to live and thrive in Rhode Island.”

Candidate Nellie Gorbea:

“The crisis of the unhoused should not gain attention only when the temperatures start to dip. Winter comes every year. It’s time to stop acting surprised. We should already have been implementing actions to address this horrible emergency affecting so many Rhode Islanders. As former director of HousingWorks RI, I know we need to start building long-term, holistic solutions because housing is the foundation for building a strong economy for all Rhode Islanders.

“As governor, I will address housing affordability, mental health needs, and transitional supports. I will also invest in permanent supportive housing with wraparound services. This is especially important for victims of abuse, people in recovery, or those exiting incarceration. I will also work with leaders in the community to grow transitional programs that match homes to individuals and families that need them.”

Candidate Seth Magaziner:

“We can end homelessness in Rhode Island, but doing so will require action and not just words. As Governor, I will create a cabinet-level housing agency tasked with developing a comprehensive housing plan for the state, including a plan to end homelessness and ensure this new agency coordinates actively with service providers. Currently, the State only collaborates with service providers on an ad-hoc basis when crises and PR scandals arise, and all too often the state does not take input from the organizations that are on the ground doing the work. I will ensure that the new cabinet-level housing agency would collaborate with providers and advocates in a permanent, structured, and responsive manner.

“As a policy, I will advocate for a housing-first approach to ending homelessness by properly funding permanent housing and robust wraparound supports for those experiencing homelessness. We will dramatically increase Rhode Island’s supply of housing at all levels, and importantly we will increase funding for emergency shelters, hotel/motel vouchers, and the Housing Rental Subsidy program to ensure no one has to sleep outside if there is a delay in their housing placements.

“Above all, we can only end homelessness in Rhode Island if the state’s approach is grounded in respect; respect for those who are unhoused, and respect for the organizations and individuals working to support those who are unhoused. This spirit of respect will guide my approach to housing as Governor.”

Professor Eric Hirsch
The RI2030 event was held in the beautiful, historic and restored United Theatre in Westerly.

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