Health Care

Governor McKee takes helter-skelter approach to combatting homelessness

“Even with the resources announced today there will still be Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness,” said Jennifer Barrera, HMIS Program Manager at the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness as she introduced the Governor.
Photo for Governor McKee takes helter-skelter approach to combatting homelessness

Published on December 16, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor were joined by homeless service providers and advocates at the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness (Coalition) offices to announce new measures to serve Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. The Administration announced the expansion of emergency shelter capacity at local homelessness service providers. Additionally, another quarantine and isolation (Q&I) facility is opening to serve housing insecure individuals and families who test positive for COVID-19.

This funding will support four service providers who are stepping up to add 130 additional emergency shelter beds for Rhode Islanders:

  • In Woonsocket the Community Care Alliance has agreed to add up to 10 hotel vouchers in the Woonsocket area starting this week.
  • In Providence Open Doors has committed to expanding their current operations to add 15 beds which are now up and running as of this week.
  • In Pawtucket Amos House will be opening a non-congregate shelter program in Pawtucket at the former Memorial Hospital. We anticipate families will be able to move in starting next week and will have up to 80 beds.
  • In East Providence House of Hope CDC will add up to 25 beds to provide services utilizing local motel rooms.

Governor McKee also announced the opening of a new quarantine and isolation facility. Thanks to West Bay CAP and the Episcopal Diocese, a new Q&I facility is slated to re-open today with 20 beds to serve housing insecure Rhode Islanders who test positive for COVID-19 and need to quarantine or isolate. This facility is located in Providence and can accommodate individuals as well as families. The addition of a Q&I facility does not add new beds in the mix but enables homeless service providers to restore capacity they lost due to social distancing requirements.

“It is crucial that we provide shelter to get Rhode Islanders off the streets – now,” said Governor McKee. “…today’s announcement is an immediate and necessary step to help those experiencing homelessness… Thanks to a roughly $5 million investment that we recently made available to our homelessness service providers, we’ve seen roughly 220 new emergency beds in shelters and hotels come online in the past six weeks alone. But we knew more was needed. I want to thank our partnering agencies, communities, hotels, and service providers for committing to this expansion.”

Asked if this effort matches the scale of the escalating homelessness crisis in Rhode Island, McKee told UpriseRI that, “At the moment it does. It’s a helter-skelter approach for sure as we patch things together and that’s why I think we need to be working on a plan so that we’re not repeating this scramble every year.” Based on what the coalition has expressed to his administration, these additional beds should meet the problem, said Governor McKee. Asked about the $1 billion in unspent ARPA funds, McKee said it doesn’t make sense to spend money without a plan. McKee did not explain why there is not plan.

Asked about the protesters led by State Senator Cynthia Mendes and gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown who are camping in tents in front of the State House, Governor McKee said it was “presumptive” of the protesters to claim that “any one group got us here today” especially considering the hard work of the homelessness advocates attending his press conference. McKee expressed a preference for working with the people already engaged in advocacy for the homeless, and suggested that political, rather than humanitarian motives, were propelling the Mendes/Brown protest.

Noting that the resources the McKee Administration put together are “critical and “life saving,” Jennifer Barrera, HMIS Program Manager at the Coalition, added a caveat, saying, “Even with the resources announced today there will still be Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness.”

Barrera also suggested that the state needs to “raise income to a living wage” and “bring systemic change to our homeless system.” For instance, noted Barrera, in Rhode Island there is no right to shelter. “If the shelters are full, Rhode Islanders are turned away… This can’t continue. The General Assembly should enact “Right to Shelter” legislation,” said Barrera. Massachusetts is a Right to Shelter state which means that anyone in need of shelter gets shelter that same evening. McKee said that he would evaluate such legislation if and when it is passed in Rhode Island.

Also speaking were Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor:

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