While the real estate and stock markets are ticking up and unemployment is ticking down, there’s one group of Rhode Islanders who are being passed over by the alleged economic recovery: the homeless.
The homeless population in Rhode Island has increased by more than 10 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Dr. Eric Hirsch, a Providence College professor who studies the number of homeless residents in Rhode Island each year. The number of homeless families increased by 12 percent. The number of homeless children increased by 16 percent and the number of homeless veterans increased by 23 percent.
“It is actually, tragically simple, the need has grown while resources have dwindled,” he said in a statement. “Those Rhode Islanders that are still experiencing the economic downturn, the underemployed and the unemployed, have begun to run out of resources and that, combined with cut backs in state and federal funding, leads to more homelessness.”
The homeless population in Rhode Island has grown by 24 percent over the past five years, according to Jim Ryczek, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.
“We hear so much about economic recovery but if you look at our numbers you can honestly say Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness aren’t seeing any recovery,” he said. “Sadly, the state’s financial response has not kept up with the need.”
But a bill before the legislature would help address rampant homelessness in Rhode Island by making available rental vouchers – a way for the homeless to pay private sector landlords for housing. Rental vouchers enabled revered activist John Joyce to get off the streets and into he system, where he became employed helping others beat homelessness. Joyce passed away this winter and activists worry that the General Assembly will ignore the need for housing now that Joyce isn’t around to lobby legislators.
But an event this afternoon at the State House is designed to make sure that can’t happen.
“With the backdrop of the classic Wizard of Oz, we are holding our own ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ production to urge legislators to support our major initiative this year, H5554 and S494, companion bills that will allocate $3.25 million for rental vouchers and the winter shelter costs,” said Karen Jeffreys, of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.