Surrounded by 88 bunk beds at Harrington Hall, the state’s largest congregate shelter, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) and other affordable housing and homeless prevention advocates released the most recent numbers of homelessness in the state and called upon Governor Chafee to act immediately to address a significant shortage of shelter beds and funds to operate shelters for the upcoming winter season. Additionally, they called upon the Governor to address the long-term solutions by including adequate funding in his upcoming budget for Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness.
A recent Winter Shelter Assessment Point in Time Count, taken on Wednesday, December 12th, reveals that there were 996 Rhode Islanders homeless on that day. This is 146 more Rhode Islanders experiencing homeless than last year’s September 2011 count of 850 found. The state’s shelter bed capacity is 577, which leaves the system at a deficit of 419 beds.
This year’s count also showed:
- 728 Rhode Islanders in shelter beds
- 112 Rhode Islanders on mats in seasonal shelters
- 156 Rhode Islanders living outside
Dr. Eric Hirsch, Professor at Providence College and Chair of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Committee, believes the shortfall number of 419 actually under estimates the problem as the Point in Time Count was an informal and incomplete count unable to capture all those who are unsheltered around the state. Hirsch also pointed out that the count does not include those who are couch surfing or living in doubled up situations.
“These increases in homelessness are being driven by economic forces: unemployment, foreclosures and evictions,” stated Hirsch. “It is morally wrong to allow people to die on our streets when it would cost very little to give them a warm, clean bed to sleep in. We need to provide emergency shelter now, but over the long run it will be most cost effective to provide permanent housing for those families and individuals who cannot access what is a very expensive rental housing market.”
With the cold weather approaching, a sluggish economy yet to recover and a continued high rate of unemployment and foreclosures in Rhode Island, advocates fear that the emergency shelter system is woefully inadequate to meet the continued growing need. The United Way’s 211 Helpline found in November a 38% increase of callers seeking housing and a 44% increase in those seeking assistance with a pending foreclosure situation.
Advocates called on the Governor to show his commitment to ending homelessness in Rhode Island by including in his upcoming budget funding to continue implementing Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness. Opening Doors Rhode Island outlines a plan that significantly transforms the provision of services to Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. Consistent with the new federal plan to end homelessness, the plan seeks to sharply decrease the numbers of people experiencing homelessness and the length of time people spend homeless.
The plan proposes to finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in five years and to prevent and end all homelessness among Veterans in the state in the same time period. It also outlines strategies to substantially decrease the numbers of homeless families and young people and to end this homelessness in ten years. Finally, the plan will reduce all other homelessness in the state and establish the framework for system transformation that will reduce the numbers of people who experience homelessness for the first time.
The state’s Emergency Winter Shelter Task Force has estimated that there still exists a current funding gap for this year’s emergency winter shelters. Once again, non-profits, philanthropic, business, faith and individual donors have responded to the call for help and donated monies to ensure that no Rhode Islander is forced to sleep outside this winter. Advocates contend that the system cannot continue to count on the generosity of the community and that the state of Rhode Island must stand up as a partner on the financial side too.
Reverend Don Anderson, Executive Director of the RI State Council of Churches summed up the moral outrage of those at the press conference when he stated, “The Hebrew prophet, Habakkuk, addresses the issue of extended neglect in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable among us. He says that the time will come when “the very stones will cry” on their behalf. The time has come for the stones to cry out.” The Reverend then called upon Rhode Islanders to call up their legislators and the Governor and demand that these crises end and that Rhode Island works to end homelessness.