Health Care

There is still no plan that matches the scale of the unhoused problem in Rhode Island – and the problem is getting worse

“One of the problems… is that there is insufficient housing for these people,” said Senator Jack Reed. “Even with vouchers… people can’t get housing.”
Photo for There is still no plan that matches the scale of the unhoused  problem in Rhode Island – and the problem is getting worse

Published on June 15, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

As the country moves ever closer to the end of the CDC‘s eviction moratorium on June 30th, Rhode Island is poised to see a big increase in the number of people without housing.

On Monday, United States Senator Jack Reed held a press conference at the Providence Housing Authority to announce $2.5 million of of federal funding to provide 159 emergency housing vouchers (EHV) for people and families who are homeless; at risk of becoming homeless; or are fleeing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking. The money is being allocated through the Emergency Housing Voucher program, which is administered by local public housing authorities across the country in partnership with local Continuums of Care, which help coordinate housing and services funding for homeless families and individuals.

“We must continue working together to house our most vulnerable residents and provide services and support to help lift individuals out of poverty,” said Senator Reed. “There is a great need for these vouchers. Too many of our fellow citizens are facing economic insecurity and the expiration of the eviction moratoria is likely to increase the number of people who could lose their homes. These vouchers will help improve the well-being of individuals and communities and I will continue working to deliver federal resources to keep people safe and housed.”

Unfortunately, the scale of the problem is currently many times larger than any federal, state or municipal program is able to deal with. In fact, there is no plan currently being considered anywhere that might deal with the scale of the problem as it exists now, never mind the possible explosion of families in need of housing after the eviction moratorium is lifted.

In the first six months of this year, 225 people were referred for a housing subsidy in Rhode Island. 87 people received a subsidy, and only 35 people were able to redeem it. Part of the problem noted Melissa Sanzaro, Executive Director of the Providence Housing Authority, is that there are not enough landlords willing to rent to people with subsidized housing vouchers, even after the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law prohibiting landlords from discriminating against renters based on their source of income. Director Sanzaro encouraged landlords to step up, but the state has been encouraging landlords to step up for the entirety of the pandemic, and few have.

The unhoused encampment in Providence’s West End is a stark example of this reality.

UpriseRI read some current statistics regarding the unhoused in Rhode Island to Senator Reed, and asked if there is anyplace in the works to address this issue.

“There is a plan pending right now, it’s the American Infrastructure Plan,” said Senator Reed. “And a significant part of that billions of dollars will be devoted to building affordable rental housing. One of the problems… is that there is insufficient housing for these people. Even with vouchers… people can’t get housing. What we’ve tried to do, with the CARES Act, with the American Rescue Plan, is to give the states locally more resources, and we have, but the real solution to this problem is building more affordable housing – and doing that not just off and on, but consistently.”

Housing, said Reed, is “one of the reasons we provided the state with $1.25 billion last year in the CARES Act and another $1.2 billion plus $500 million for localities, so that local and state officials have some resources to do what you’re suggesting – short term – how do we help these people. Then we’d like to come back, with the Infrastructure Plan… to do that medium and long term – build actual new units.”

“Are you encouraging the Governor and the General Assembly then to use that money to tackle this problem in a very proactive way?” Asked UpriseRI.

“I think that the money is available and the demands on it are tough, but I’ve already seen both Speaker Shekarchi and the Governor making affordable housing, for the first time in many years, a prominent and maybe a number one item on the agenda.”

The statistics above were supplied by Providence College Sociology Professor Eric Hirsch, and taken from the Rhode Island Homeless Management Information System:

Last week UpriseRI brought similar concerns to Governor Daniel McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos. Lieutenant Governor Matos was talking about adding 30 shelter units, which may account for five percent of the unhoused, under current conditions. She added that though the issue is big, little efforts are better than none.


Here’s the rest of the press conference on Monday:

“We must continue working together to house our most vulnerable residents and provide services and support to help lift individuals out of poverty. There is a great need for these vouchers. Too many of our fellow citizens are facing economic insecurity and the expiration of the eviction moratoria is likely to increase the number of people who could lose their homes. These vouchers will help improve the well-being of individuals and communities and I will continue working to deliver federal resources to keep people safe and housed,” said Senator Reed.

“We are grateful to Senator Reed for his work to establish the Emergency Housing Voucher program, which is so timely and a great opportunity to expand our work to help end homelessness in Rhode Island,” said Melissa Sanzaro, Executive Director of the Providence Housing Authority. “We look forward to working together with our partners at Rhode Island Housing, the RI Continuum of Care, the state’s homeless service agencies, and landlords to successfully utilize the new emergency vouchers.”

Full Q&A:

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