An array of groups and individuals that advocate for the rights of the homeless sent a letter today to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza commending his vow to veto a discriminatory anti-smoking ordinance passed by the City Council last week. The ordinance, enacted under the guise of promoting public health, bans smoking in downtown Providence’s Kennedy Plaza area.
The letter notes the “ordinance will be disproportionally used against the poor and homeless in an attempt to displace them from this downtown area,” and that its passage can be seen as part of an ongoing effort by the City Council to hide Providence’s poverty. Previously, the council banned smoking in downtown public parks, prompting more people to smoke in the Kennedy Plaza area.
The letter states, “the downtown area should be a public place for everybody, and this attempt to shuffle the poor around in order to hide the poverty that exists in the City is unseemly and ultimately self-defeating.”
Signatories to the letter include the RI Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP), House of Hope CDC, ACLU of Rhode Island, SouthCoast Fair Housing, DARE, and the Homeless Bill of Rights Committee. In 2012, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights, ensuring that no one faces discrimination because of their housing status.
“This ordinance will only serve to punish the City’s already vulnerable poor, and divert police attention away from meaningful law enforcement activities,” said Barbara Freitas, director of RIHAP. Providence’s Commissioner of Public Safety has noted on numerous occasions that enforcement of this ordinance would be a waste of the city’s limited police resources.
In applauding the Mayor’s decision to veto the troubling ordinance, the signatories urged the City Council not to override the anticipated veto.