Health Care

Record turnout for Sleep Out to end homelessness

“As amazing as it is to be in solidarity with so many Rhode Islanders, we shouldn’t have to do this,” said Senator Cynthia Mendes. “We shouldn’t have to be here, we shouldn’t have to demand that the leaders of this state prioritize human life and we demand that they do not allow some people to freeze to death this winter…”
Photo for Record turnout for Sleep Out to end homelessness

Published on December 13, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

On Day 14 of the Sleep Out Senator Cynthia Mendes and her running mate Matt Brown threw a rally. For the last two weeks Mendes and Brown, who are running for Lieutenant Governor and Governor, have slept in tents outside the Rhode Island State House – through wind, cold, rain and even a dusting of snow. They are demanding that state leaders, specifically Governor Daniel McKee, Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, spend a small part of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act money to ensure safe housing for all Rhode Islanders.

Senator Cynthia Mendes

So far this call to acknowledge the humanity of homeless Rhode Islanders has fallen on deaf ears. The General Assembly is slow walking any spending until some time in January when they plan to vote on spending the first ten percent of the money. Most of that money is going to help businesses.

For 14 days Senator Mendes has been joined by dozens of supporters, with many spending nights in tents alongside her. Her supporters include activists, religious leaders, doctors, teachers and homeless advocates. Tonight the Senator has set a record, with over 100 people joining her in tents, “with the basic cry that no one should freeze to death this winter, that no Rhode Islander should sleep outside.”

Here’s the video:

“I want to be very very clear,” said Senator Mendes as she took the mic before around 200 people gathered in support on the north side of the State House. “As amazing as it is to be in solidarity with so many Rhode Islanders, we shouldn’t have to do this. We shouldn’t have to be here, we shouldn’t have to demand that the leaders of this state prioritize human life and we demand that they do not allow some people to freeze to death this winter…”

Christa Thomas Sowers runs a harm reduction focused drop-in center at Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket. “Half of the people who currently walk through our doors are unhoused,” said Thomas Sowers. “We have these people coming in every day and most of the time all I can give the is a number that will not work to connect them to a shelter they so desperately need.

“Today alone I had to tell a mother who had four children sleeping in a car that I could not help her. My co-worker was texting me from the other room because there was another mother with a child sleeping in a car who we cannot help. We do not have enough resources. We need places to put these people…”

“They could have solved this problem back in May,” said Barbara Freitas, Director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project. “The Continuum of Care sent a letter to the Governor and told him exactly and spelled it out for him how to solve this problem. You know when we got a response? October.

“And [the response] was bullshit!”

“Just today I saw four patients, all four of whom needed housing,” said Dr. Nithin Paul, who practices in Woonsocket. “All four of whom I could not get them housing.”

When his patients called the number to secure housing for the night, they were told there might be a bed available later. When they called back, they were told the bed had already been given away. “Sorry, you’ll have to spend th night out.”

“They make us fight for scars,” said Dr. Paul. “That’s messed up.”

“This was never about money,” said Matt Brown. “It was never about money. This is about power.

“We are trying to make sure that no one freezes to death this winter. But we are also here to make sure it doesn’t happen next year, or the winter after that. And the way we’re going to do that is to take power from the people in [the State House] and bring it to the people out here. We’re going to take power from the people who do not care and give it to the people who take care of people for a living.”

“My mom was a CNA and she could not make ends meet to support us,” said Monica Huertas, an environmental and social justice advocate. “Trust me when I tell you that every night she would have to work and she couldn’t pick up certain shifts because she didn’t have a place to leave us. And the times she did pick up shifts we had to sleep outside.”

“This is not just a Rhode Island problem,” said Pastor Mariama White-Hammond, a minister and community activist working on environmental, racial and economic justice issues. “This is a problem throughout our country and around the world.

“How is it that our most vulnerable citizens are asked to wait at the end of the line?”

Senator Mendes closed out the evening by leading everyone in song. After this people ate, set up tents, chatted, and at least 100 of them prepared for a long cold night sleeping outdoors.

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