Health Care

Advocates protest again outside McKee’s office due to looming homeless crisis

Activists taped a large eviction notice on the door to the Governor’s office door, informing Governor McKee that he is “indebted to the State of Rhode Island in the sumo 500 shelter beds, 500 new permanent supportive housing units” and “the hundreds of million’s of ARP $’s that you aren’t spending!”

The message continues: “You are required to pay the above sum after you receive this notice OR surrender possession of the premises to the State of Rhode Island.”

Photo for Advocates protest again outside McKee’s office due to looming homeless crisis

Published on May 13, 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) returned to Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee’s State House office on Tuesday to demand that he address the unsheltered homelessness crisis.

Activists taped a large eviction notice on the door to the Governor’s office door, informing Governor McKee that he is “indebted to the State of Rhode Island in the sumo 500 shelter beds, 500 new permanent supportive housing units” and “the hundreds of million’s of ARP $’s that you aren’t spending!”

The message continues: “You are required to pay the above sum after you receive this notice OR surrender possession of the premises to the State of Rhode Island.”

No one from McKee’s office was on hand to offer a comment, and the Governor was said to be not in the building. Governor’s staff avoided the protesters and refused to speak with the protesters. In this video, Governor staffer Rico Vota and Governor’s the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Chris Abhulime can be seen leaving the office and avoiding the protesters, even when protesters invite them to engage.

Activists had previously called upon the McKee Administration on April 26, to little avail. See: Homeless advocates protest outside Governor McKee’s office due to looming crisis

The State provided over 500 hotel and emergency winter shelter beds due to the Covid-19 crisis, but those using the beds are now being forced out as funding expires in the next few months. This is not only a problem in the winter. Those forced onto the street can die due to heat, not just the cold.

Josh Saal, the newly appointed Deputy Secretary of Commerce in charge of housing, told advocates that the state has a six month timeline because the cold winter months are behind us for now, according to Professor Eric Hirsch of Providence College, Co-Chair of the state’s Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee. “This is not only a problem in the winter,” said Professor Hirsch. “Those forced onto the street can die due to heat, not just the cold.”

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the two weeks ending April 30th, 248 individuals have been reported as living outside in Rhode Island. This number will increase as people are forced to leave winter shelter. Those evicted from those beds have nowhere to go, as there are 947 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelter including 568 adults, and 379 individuals in 115 families with children.

The advocates support the governor’s expansion of the Landlord Incentive Program which will recruit private landlords to house the formerly homeless. See: Governor McKee announces “Landlord Challenge” to pay landlords to rent to formerly homeless However, say advocates, this program is likely to provide dozens of units and not the hundreds of beds needed. The program, originally launched in August of 2020 and now being run by Amos House, has recently provided 82 apartments, with 25 potential units in process.

“As a state, we are on the verge of institutionalizing unsheltered homelessness,” said Professor Hirsch. “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we generally had under 100 people staying outside. Since the beginning of 2022 that number has increased to between 250 and 375. We need rapidly deployable shelters to address this urgent crisis. If people had lost their homes due to flooding or a fire, they would not have been left outside with nowhere to go.”

Advocates say the Governor must:

  1. Immediately order rapidly deployable structures with 500 beds and provide sites for them, including at the Pastore Complex. The estimated cost is $7.5 million for the first year with the majority of those dollars being a one-time expense. Compare this to the $16.8 million a year, paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to keep formerly homeless people in Rhode Island hotels.
  2. There must be a well-planned funded path for these constituents to be placed in permanent housing. Therefore, the Governor must find creative ways to quickly create 500 new permanent supportive and deeply subsidized housing units.
  3. Hundreds of millions of dollars are available through the American Rescue Plan Act to fund this. It’s time to spend these funds to address the most urgent crisis that has been created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There are so many blocks to finding housing,” said Sean Costigan, who is formerly homeless. “I think one of the issues is that people don’t know how to go about getting help finding housing. And when you look at the drug and alcohol problems, people are getting no help with that either. There’s no education, there’s no rehabilitation. People are not getting pointed in the right direction for anything…”

“I was living in my house with my husband,” said Luz Arroyo, who has been homeless since January. “After my husband’s death – he passed away in June of last year – I got evicted. For no reason. I had a lease and an affordable apartment. They just left me on the street.

“I have no place…” said Arroyo, fighting back tears.

“Every day I talked with folks who are staying on the street. I hear from them [about] the deep injustices they are facing every day in the sense of negligence that they feel, on the part of government towards their basic needs,” said Megan Smith, a homeless outreach worker with House of Hope CDC. “It’s really important we hold [Governor McKee] to account. This is his state, these are his neighbors, this is his community, and it feels that this has not been a priority for him despite repeated asks.”

Protesters chanted in the hall outside the Governor’s office, giving him 30 minutes to meet with them about their demands. The Governor did not meet with the protesters.

Here’s the video of the protesters affixing the eviction notice to the outside of Governor McKee’s State House office door.

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