Homeless Like Me: Project Doesn’t Portray Problem

A camp on the banks of the Providence River (Photo by Bob Plain)

Homelessness in Rhode Island, by and large, does not look like it does in the dispatches I filed during my 48 hours of living on the streets and in a shelter. In fact, the slice of homelessness that I portrayed plays to the worst stereotypes about those without homes: that they are drunks, drug addicts, mentally ill and/or criminals.

The reality is the homeless can be just like you and me. Statistically speaking, almost half of the country is only separated from financial calamity because of their jobs and their support network. So while the most obvious sign of homelessness might be the guy with untreated schizophrenia or the drunk passed out on a city sidewalk, don’t confuse the visible minority with the vast majority.

According to the RI Coalition for the Homeless, more than half of Rhode Island’s homeless population finds themselves on the streets for the first time in their lives. Almost 40 percent are families, and more than 40 percent are women. A full quarter of the homeless here are children. Only 13 percent said they abused alcohol and 15 percent said they abused drugs, according to a survey of people who required emergency shelter or transitional housing.

There are more than 500 employed Rhode Islanders who don’t have a place to live.

Harrington Hall at 7am Saturday morning.

Conversely, there are only about 500 to 1000 chronically homeless people in Rhode Island. Those who can’t or don’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get back in an apartment but instead stay on the streets or in a shelter year after year.

It’s a small enough number that it wouldn’t be all that expensive to end chronic homelessness in Rhode Island, and the Coalition has a plan to do so in five years. Advocates also say more affordable housing will keep more people out of homelessness in the first place, and provide a better way to get some people out of it.

Like everywhere there are people living on the streets, Rhode Island has a severe issue with homelessness. But because of our size, we also have the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to eradicate the problem.

I live-tweeted 48 hours of living on the streets of Providence. Click here to see them.

Other posts in #HomelessLikeMe project:

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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

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