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Housing for those living in their vehicles is vital – But in the meantime they need safe parking options

“That’s a sad issue to deal with and unfortunately it’s not necessarily a state issue,” said Speaker Shekarchi. “I would hope that Mayor Elorza and the City of Providence would find an area that would be suitable temporarily…”



Last week homeless and housing advocates gathered outside the Rhode Island State House making a small request: A safe place to park the cars they are living in.

Despite repeated asks that the state designate a safe parking lot for those staying in vehicles to use, no action has been taken. This has caused those sleeping in cars, vans, and RVs to continue to be ticketed and towed. When this happens, people simultaneously lose their belongings, shelter, and transportation. It is often prohibitively expensive to retrieve vehicles from tow lots, which makes the loss permanent.

The day after the rally, United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) joined Rhode Island Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi, HousingWorks RI director Brenda Clement and Rhode Island Center for Justice executive director Jennifer Wood to announce millions of dollars in funding for rent and mortgage relief, as well as affordable housing.

UpriseRI asked if a small amount of that money might be used to help provide a safe parking area for homeless people living in their cars.

Here’s the video:

Here’s the conversation:

UpriseRI: I was at a rally yesterday at the state house. People who live in their cars are experiencing much trouble having their cars, towed, booted. They don’t have a safe place to park. And they’re asking the state if they can provide that. Is there any way that some of this money might be able to go towards something like that? Or

Senator Jack Reed: This money is designed foreviction protection and foreclosure protection. But that just underscores the gravity of this whole crisis, where you have people living in cars and asking basically just for parking space, not for a home.

Speaker Joseph Shekarchi: That’s a sad issue to deal with and unfortunately it’s not necessarily a state issue. We don’t create state zoning… it has to be deferred on a city and town individualized basis. I would hope that Mayor Elorza and the City of Providence would find an area that would be suitable temporarily. I would defer to the mayors. I mean, can you imagine if the Speaker or the State told a community what they had to do in terms of local zoning? It would be a major issue. So I would hope that there’d be some compassion.

Jennifer Wood: The real answer is to get people out of their cars.

Brenda Clement: Right. A car is not acceptable.

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Wood: That is a municipal issue, but I do believe that there are funds in this package for homelessness prevention and relief, and really getting people out of their cars into stable, supportive housing would be the ultimate solution for that parking issue.

Clement: Potentially using some of that funding and money to acquire properties to [house people]. Other states have used some of that funding and money to acquire vacant motel spaces and other things that we can move people into on a more permanent basis. So I think the point is just to think differently and creatively – use this opportunity and turn it into a positive.

Senator Reed: I think there’s $23m for Rhode Island for homelessness assistance. That’s not designed to find parking spaces for people in cars. That’s designed to put people into decent, safe housing.

Given that the consensus was that a safe space for parking is a municipal issue, UpriseRI reached out to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza for a statement.

Mayor Elorza has not responded to a request for comment.

Watch: Virginia Gibson says she was illegally evicted in RI during the pandemic and now lives in a van:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.