Civil Rights

Governor responds to Superior Court homeless eviction complaint

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee responded to Judge David Cruise’s decision to continue hearings that will take up the constitutionality of his decision to evict a homeless encampment from the State House plaza in both words and deed.

December 14, 2022, 5:56 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee responded to Judge David Cruise‘s decision to continue hearings that will take up the constitutionality of his decision to evict a homeless encampment from the State House plaza in both words and deed.

In words, the Governor said, in a statement, “As we were prepared to show the court today, those camping outside the State House have been offered shelter beds. The overwhelming majority of those who were offered shelter have accepted and been placed. Our team will continue to conduct outreach to the few who have declined emergency shelter beds that have been offered.

In support of this contention, the Governor released an affidavit from Joseph Lindstrom – Chief of Program Development and employed at the State House – that was submitted to the court as part of the Governor’s case to proceed with the eviction.

In the affidavit Lindstrom explains that before working in his current position he worked for the National Low Income Housing Coalition for nearly a decade, and before that he led the legislative committee for the Homeless Services Consortium of Dane County in Wisconsin and before that ran homeless outreach for Tellurian UCAN, Inc. in Wisconsin.

In the affidavit Lindstrom affirms that he was present at the Rhode Island State House from December 10 to December 14, for as long as fifteen hours a day, performing direct outreach to the persons encamped there. Lindstrom affirms and details his efforts to offer shelter to those at the encampment.

The majority of the people contacted, affirms Lindstrom, turned down the offer of shelter beds at Emmanuel House, Crossroads, Providence Rescue Mission, or other resources. The people Lindstrom contacted and mentioned in the affidavit are all listed as plaintiffs in the ACLU/Center for Justice complaint. Lindstrom has yet to contact some of those listed in the complaint, but notes that he has contacted people in the encampment not listed in the complaint.

The Governor’s release of the affidavit may be in reaction to the ACLU press conference yesterday where plaintiff Adam Northrop told Uprise RI that he had not been offered shelter from anyone on the Governor’s staff. In the affidavit, Lindstrom affirms that “I spoke with Adam Northrop who indicated that he is homeless but that he does not sleep at the encampment.” And that Northrop was, “Offered [a bed] at Emmanuel House and accepted, but Adam did not come to the van at the predetermined time.”

Judge David Cruise will sort through all the claims and counter claims made by the plaintiffs and the Governor at a hearing scheduled for Friday, December 16 at 11:30pm at the Superior Courthouse in downtown Providence.

Governor McKee’s action response was to mobilize the Rhode Island National Guard to temporarily assist with the operation of the Cranston Street Armory Warming Station for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. The 50 National Guard members will work with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Here’s the letter Governor McKee sent to Major General Christopher Callahan of the Rhode Island National Guard:

The initial plan to put a warming center in the Cranston Street Armory ran into problems when no one responded to the RFP (request for proposals) issued by the government. The RFP was supposed to be extended, per Matthew Sheaff, Governor McKee’s Communications Chief, but it now seems that the Governor plans to build the warming center himself with the help of the National Guard.

The warming center is estimated to be able to take up to 50 people, and these will not be shelter beds. This will be a warming center, and exactly how it will be maintained, whether people will be able to sleep there, and whether people will be turned away on extremely cold nights when the space is full are all unknown.

The number of unhoused people sleeping in “conditions unfit for human habitation” was 385 at last count. Governor McKee continues to dispute this number, offering no evidence for his disagreement. There are an estimated 80 encampments in the state, similar to that outside the State House. The Governor has also publicly disputed this number, without providing evidence.

Photos for this story were provided by Governor McKee.