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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Large group demands Governor McKee keep promise of providing shelter to the unhoused

It’s getting cold and it’s past time McKee kept his word

By Steve Ahlquist in UpRiseRI

NOTE: there are more photos plus video's in Steve's original article

Over 75 people, many currently experiencing homelessness, gathered at noon outside the second floor offices of Governor Daniel McKee at the Rhode Island State House on Monday to deliver a letter signed by over 600 people demanding that the Governor fulfill his promise to provide shelter beds to anyone who is living outside. Hotels, they demanded, must now be reopened since the state has failed to provide a sufficient number of emergency shelter beds.

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the two weeks ending November 5th, 501 individuals have been reported as living outside in Rhode Island, including 63 households with children. Outreach workers estimate that there continue to be more than 80 homeless encampments in the state.

A recent statement from Housing Secretary Josh Saal that, “Anyone who is continuing to encamp at this location [State House Plaza] has declined opportunities to move to alternative shelter resources” was walked back after Uprise RI reporter Deborah Marini examined the claim and determined that this was false. Those searching for shelter have been advised by the Governor’s people to call the state’s Coordinated Entry System (CES).

“If you call the Coordinated Entry Line, the best you’re going to do is to get on a waiting list. The waiting list has over 600 people on it,” said Professor Eric Hirsch from the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project speaking to the crowd at the State House, adding that the statement from Secretary Saal, “is false.”

“It’s a lie,” said a woman in the crowd.

With temperature’s now as low as 25 degrees overnight, and no big moves on the part of Governor McKee, the promise to house everyone who needs housing by Thanksgiving is unlikely to be kept, so people will continue to suffer across the state.

“We are here to hold Governor Dan McKee accountable for his promise of 500 beds for unsheltered folks that are forced to sleep outside,” said Terri Wright, an organizer for Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) as the crowd gathered in the hallway outside the Governor’s offices.

No one from the Governor’s office stepped out to greet the crowd, accept their letter or in any acknowledge them. The only official acknowledgement of the protest came from the Capitol Police, who lurked menacingly nearby.

“To add insult to injury,” continued Wright, “we’ve been asking about this long before it was cold, in the Summer. Having unsheltered folks forced to live outdoors is inhumane.

We slept out here last year for shelter beds. It should not keep going on year after year.

“It doesn’t appear that the Governor cares about the lives of unsheltered Rhode Islanders,” continued Wright. “The Governor’s staff is getting ready to decorate Christmas Trees, while on the other side of the State House we have unsheltered, freezing cold folks with compromised immune systems forced to live outdoors.”

The McKee Administration did not reply to a request for comment on this story, but did send out a press release announcing a November 30th Christmas tree lighting at the State House.

Nearly a dozen people experiencing homelessness right now, many of whom are sleeping in tents on the north side of the State House, spoke to reporters in the hallway.

“We’ve been staying outside for three years now. My house burned down from the head of a cigarette, so I lost everything. Both of us lost everything,” said Ashley, standing with her husband Nathaniel. “I have a housing voucher but it’s very hard to find an apartment right now.”

“I just want to point out really quick that there’s no port-a-potties placed around the city for unsheltered folks,” said DARE’s Terri Wright. “You tell me that’s the work of someone who cares. Where do you go to the bathroom when the train station closes at 11? You have to wait until five in the morning!”

“I’ve been homeless since July. I’m very sick, I have COPD, anxiety, depression,” said Pamela, who has been sleeping in a tent at the State House. “Governor McKee did lie. He’s at the Amos House right now serving meals while we’re over here protesting. Something needs to happen quick, because we’re not all healthy in this cold weather. Me myself, I have COPD and I can’t breathe.”

Living in a tent outside the Sate House “has been like hell,” said Pamela. “There’s no where to go to the bathroom. There’s folks who ride by us every morning and scream ‘Go get a job! Go get a house! Go get a life!’ It’s rotten. It makes us all feel uncomfortable.

“We have to look for food. We have to look for somewhere to sleep. We have to look for somewhere to go to the bathroom. It’s just aggravating.”

“I lost my apartment and I’ve been living in a tent,” said Rachel, who has been unhoused since July. “I’ve been calling for shelter and they’ve been not having shelter. I tried to go into Cranston Street and I fell over there and they kicked me out over there. I have a broken foot. I need help. Somewhere to live.

“All these people are unhoused, with medical conditions,” said Serenity, who spoke about people threatening the encampment with guns. “There needs to be safety precautions. There needs to be food. People need to, pardon the expression, get their heads out of their asses because they’re high-class bitches. They’re pussy-ass bitches. They’re two-faced.”

“We need shelter because we have a one-year old child that we need to take care of,” said Joseph, standing with his wife Kristle. “We try to go to different place, but every time we go to CES they say it’s fun, it’s full, it’s full. I have a seizure disorder, so I can’t be out in the cold.”

“We are risking our mentality trying to make our way in life. The Governor needs to step the hell up,” said Alexander, standing with his wife Megan. They have been homeless for about a month. “I’m at the fucking point where I’m not going to give a crap any more… People are getting arrested for no fucking good reason…”

“Wow can you sleep at night knowing there’s people sleeping on your property with no housing, no hope in the future? … It’s going to get worse as time goes by. We’re not even in the coldest month of the winter yet…”

“I have a section 8 voucher. I have rapid re-housing and I get SSI and still can’t find anything,” said Deandra. “I have Asthma, COPD. It doesn’t make any sense. How do you have the heart to walk by us and not care? And then you lie and say you came down and offered all of us housing… You didn’t offer me housing…”

“The Governor must immediately reopen hotel rooms to provide 500 emergency beds, as this is the only viable short-term means of getting a roof over the heads of those who are currently living outside,” said activists in their letter to the Governor. Further, “The Governor must immediately find sites and begin assembly of rapidly deployable emergency shelters. These can provide viable shelter while permanent supportive housing and deeply subsidized housing units are under construction.

The Governor has repeatedly declined to use his executive powers to pave the way towards erecting temporary pallet shelters for unhoused people.

The last demand was that the Governor accelerate the process of generating 500 new permanent supportive and deeply subsidized housing units for those who will be sheltered in temporary emergency beds. Though money has been towards this, the first units are years away.

“They say they’re going to get us vouchers. They’re going to get us homes, food, donations…” said Jesse, who is unsheltered. “I don’t see nothing happening.”Moments before taping an oversized copy of the letter to the door of the Governor’s office, Eric Hirsch addressed the crowd and the press.

“These people here and hundreds of others living outside in 80+ tent encampments around the state do not have shelter beds to go to,” said Professor Hirsch. “We simply want [the Governor] to keep his promise. They refused to build the rapidly deployable shelters – now we don’t have time to set those up -certainly not by Thursday. So we need the hotels to be reopened for people. It’s the only way we can give them a safe place to stay in the next week.

“The people here have not been offered shelter, ” said Professor Hirsch. “So we want hotels open with at least 500 available beds.”