Homelessness advocates erect tents on the State House lawn to be noticed“I’m here today because I’m terrified,” said Sara Melucci, Director of Rhode Island’s PATH street outreach program. “In the past year and a half my team and I have watched the number of people living outdoors grow exponentially, hitting numbers that our state has never seen before.”
Published on September 9, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
Activists from the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP) and the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights Defense Committee erected tents on the Rhode Island State House lawn to call attention to the crisis of unsheltered homelessness in our state. The number of people living outside has skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a density reduction in homeless shelters and which has meant that many households have lost their homes because they cannot make their rent or mortgage payment.
According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, there are an estimated 336 individuals currently living outside in Rhode Island. This number has increased by 86% since January 2021 and 22% since July 1st. There are 1,029 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelters; this number includes 165 family households with 532 parents and children. We now have more people on the waiting list for shelter than we have shelter beds.
This crisis of unsheltered homelessness will get worse as winter approaches unless immediate actions are taken. 212 formerly homeless persons will lose a roof over their heads on September 14th when the state-supported hotel room program closes. And hundreds more may become homeless as the Centers for Disease Control’s partial eviction moratorium ends.
State leaders continue to dither.
“I have been Chair of the Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee since the system was created in 2003″ said Professor Eric Hirsch of Providence College, Chair of the state’s Homeless Management Information System Steering Committee. “We are now seeing four to five times the number of people living unsheltered as we have ever seen in the state’s history. The numbers are unprecedented! The state must act to address this crisis now. Living outside in New England in the winter is life-threatening.”
“I’ve been homeless on and off for 13 years,” said Diumila Almonte. “It’s not been an easy journey to get where I am today. There’s so much more the state could do for people today. I don’t see why people need to be in tents when there could be better programs and better shelters.”
“I’m here today because I’m terrified,” said Sara Melucci, Director of Rhode Island’s PATH street outreach program. “In the past year and a half my team and I have watched the number of people living outdoors grow exponentially, hitting numbers that our state has never seen before.”
“This tent encampment is like the other ones in Rhode Island except that this one is temporary,” said Barbara Freitas, Head of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and someone who has experienced unsheltered homelessness herself. “We can go home tonight. Many others can’t. Unfortunately, for our friends, this has become a way of life. And it shouldn’t be. We are here to make sure that the Governor and General Assembly know that.”
Activists assert that state government has not adequately addressed this crisis. If this increase in unsheltered homelessness had been due to Hurricanes Henri and Ida, action would have been taken immediately to shelter and house the victims. They argue that the following steps need to be taken now:
- The Governor and the General Assembly must immediately mobilize a taskforce to find creative ways to add 500 new housing units with supportive services to house as many of those living outside as possible.
- The Governor and General Assembly must ensure that those not housed as winter approaches have hotel rooms or safe shelter beds.
- The Governor and General Assembly must find a site for the House of Hope sponsored tiny home Echo Village to provide alternative safe shelter.
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