Civil Rights

Homeless advocates protest outside Governor McKee’s office due to looming crisis

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the two weeks ending April 16, 255 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 932 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelter including 544 adults, and 388 individuals in 117 families with children.
Photo for Homeless advocates protest outside Governor McKee’s office due to looming crisis

Published on April 26, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Activists from the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP), Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE), and Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) were outside the office of Governor Daniel McKee on the second floor of the Rhode Island State House to protest the Governor’s failure to address the looming unsheltered homelessness crisis. Rhode Island provided over 500 hotel and emergency winter shelter beds due to the Covid-19 crisis, but those who have occupied those beds are now being forced out as funding expires.

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the two weeks ending April 16, 255 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 932 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelter including 544 adults, and 388 individuals in 117 families with children.

The Governor recently told homeless advocates that this problem can wait until fall for a solution. Advocates counter that those forced onto the street cannot wait that long. People can die on the street due to heat, not just the cold. Several people spoke outside the office of the Governor, who was attending another event in the State House at the time and left through a side exit quickly afterwards.

“I have been housed for the last nine months due to the funding that was able to be provided to us at that time… Due to me being housed… I am now a college student at Southern New Hampshire University.”

“I was homeless for about six years. I was on dialysis while I was homeless. It was a very tough time. This is not a new issue. There are people who have been homeless for over 20 years that I’ve seen with my naked eyes,” said Cedric Russell, now a candidate for Providence City Council.

“Right now I’m happy because me and my daughter have a place to live. I didn’t want her to be born on the streets…”

“We appreciate the Governor’s action in creating emergency shelter during last winter. He must now ensure that the hundreds of people, individuals and families, in those beds are not forced outside again,” said Professor Eric Hirsch of Providence College, Co-Chair of the state’s Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee. “If they are, the costs to them and to the state as a whole will be unprecedented. We have more than enough American Rescue Plan funds to provide these shelter beds and permanent housing.”

“Most of those at this protest can go home tonight. Many others can’t. Unfortunately, for our friends, living outside has become a way of life,” said Barbara Freitas, Head of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and someone who has experienced unsheltered homelessness herself. “And it shouldn’t be. We are here to make sure that the Governor knows that and acts now to get roofs over people’s heads. We will not accept one more night of people forced to sleep outside!”

Activists assert that state government has not adequately addressed this urgent crisis. The Governor’s office and the General Assembly must show leadership and intervene now to find solutions. Non-profits cannot do this alone. The Governor must:

  1. Immediately order temporary emergency shelters with 500 beds and find sites for them including the House of Hope’s ECHO Village.
  2. There must be a well-planned funded path for these constituents to be placed in permanent supportive housing or deeply subsidized housing. Therefore, Governor and the General Assembly 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.

Among those participating in the protest were Matt Brown, candidate for Rhode Island Governor and State Senator Cynthia Mendes (Democrat, District 18, East Providence), who is running for Lieutenant Governor.

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