Unhoused, they banded together. Now their “garden” is about to be dispersed.“This started off down the street. There’s a little garden. That was my vision,” said Diumila Almonte. “Somebody has to tell their story and be honest and not feel judged for their story. People need to know it’s our society failing these people. It’s our government failing these people. It’s our council failing these people.”
Published on June 2, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist
Providence Police Officers, advocates for the unhoused and Councilmember Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) were on the scene when UpriseRI arrived at the encampment off Broad Street in Providence. The location was a small lot, surrounded by a chain link fence and tall weeds that hid from a casual glance most of what was going on inside. The encampment was about two weeks old, and consisted of tents and gardens. About a dozen people, all unhoused, lived inside.
The reason for all the sudden attention seems have been prompted by complaints from neighbors when a portable restroom was brought to the site. Neighbor complaints to Councilmember Harris and the police drew a small crowd.
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As UpriseRI arrived, Diumila Almonte, the spokesperson for the group, was explaining to Councilmember Harris that putting them all up in hotels wasn’t necessarily a viable solution.
“We don’t want hotels in Warwick and places we’re not from,” explained Almonte. “We would like local hotels to work with us where I can have access to my doctors. It seems like all the hotels are in Warwick or Jamestown, places that are not accessible. I need an easy bus route, something that’s 30 minutes from where I am and where I’m going.”
A police officer explained to Almonte that they were involved because the people living in the encampment did not own the land, and that the addition of a porta potty had drawn the attention of neighbors in the area upset about the encampment.
“I know it’s better to have one than not,” said the officer, “but you just can’t bring…”
“I think people would have complained if we had one or not,” interrupted Almonte. “I’m not mad at the situation, I’m just mad that there aren’t enough resources right now.”
The portable restroom lasted at the encampment for all of a couple of hours. Now the community was back to using bags and buckets.
The legal status of the property is complicated. The City of Providence is in the process of taking the property by eminent domain. The lot is part of the “Klitzner complex“, said Bonnie Nickerson, Providence’s Director of Long-Range Planning, which includes a nearby mill building. “There is a redevelopment plan for that mill and those lots associated with it are going to be part of that project.”
The lot in question is the “last piece of that puzzle” said Director Nickerson, who notes that the City of Providence has been trying to acquire the property for a long time.
Nickerson was made aware of the encampment yesterday through a phone call with Councilmember Harris. UpriseRI spoke to Director Nickerson on Wednesday morning.
“When something like that happens we start reaching out to partners. So we’re going to reach out to crossroads, the police department and others and give folks a sense of timing,” said Director Nickerson. “We can’t continue to have an encampment on the private property.”
UpriseRI expressed a concern that the encampment would be broken up and the people there dispersed without having an adequate plan for where they will go and how they will receive adequate public services.
“The first thing we do is reach out to partners and come up with a plan about how we’re going to address the situation,” said Director Nickerson. “Everyone’s safety and wellbeing is obviously top of mind for us.
“We’re actively involved in trying to come up with a solution to this, but it’s a challenge…”
At the encampment on Tuesday afternoon, UpriseRI spoke with Diumila Almonte, who leads the group.
“My purpose, I feel, is to help these people and to be here with them to the cops or anyone that’s here to destroy the good life we’re trying to build,” said Almonte. “It sucks that the community [neighbors and homeowners in the area] is so against this…
“You need to do something. We don’t have time to wait any more. There needs to be an action plan by our government,” continued Almonte. “Right now our government, our [city] council, is the problem. They need to be part of the solution or get out of our way and let us do what we have to do. We can’t wait for permission, we have to do it.”
Before forming her “garden,” Almonte had an RV she lived in, but that vehicle was “maliciously” burned down a couple of months ago. Since then, “I haven’t been able to feel safe. I haven’t had something that was mine. I mean, this garden, this encampment, this is my community. This is my work.”
Though no official action was taken to disperse the camp, both the police and Councilmember Harris indicated that the camp may be dispersed by Thursday.
“This started off down the street. There’s a little garden. That was my vision,” said Almonte. “Somebody has to tell their story and be honest and not feel judged for their story. People need to know it’s our society failing these people. It’s our government failing these people. It’s our council failing these people.”
If the failure continues, says Almonte, “there’s going to continue to be be gardens like this everywhere because I’m ready to put up another one. I’m not scared to break the rules. I’m not scared to step up to the plate if I have to – stepping up for my people…”
[Note: This story has been updated since Diumila Almonte has decided to be public about her identity and no longer wishes to be known by the pseudonym “Matilda.”]
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