Innovation Ecosystem

Housing crunch

Investing in preventing homelessness

Photo by Richard Asinof

It was a cold and rainy day at the homeless encampment on Orms Street in Providence, across from the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Department of Administration buildings. An unhoused individual living there was arrested for trespassing an hour after this photograph was taken.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/2/23
News stories about housing scarcity in Rhode Island, a new round of government grants to prevent homelessness, the arrest of an unhoused individual at his Orms Street encampment, and charges of redlining by Washington Trust all collided last week.
Did Gov. Dan McKee place political pressure on Providence Mayor Brett Smiley to arrest the homeless individual at the Orms Street encampment? What was the purpose of Gov. McKee’s attendance, at the invitation of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, at a tour of encampment sites in Woonsocket,? Can Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor provide the metrics about the problems with the Housing Department allegedly being short staffed? Can banking executives in Rhode Island be asked to read Richard Rothstein’s book, “The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America?” [Perhaps the Rhode Island Foundation could underwrite the purchase of Rothstein’s book as part of its equity initiative.]
What makes a neighborhood work? At the most basic level, it is the ability of people to talk with each other, to share a sense of connectedness to each other’s lives and families, a sense of people paying attention to the changes in the landscape around them. It is always about people and the ways that they engage in conversations with each other, sharing stories and meals together.

PROVIDENCE – Call it a perverse game of chicken. A shutdown of the federal government was averted at the very last moment on Saturday evening, Sept. 30, when Congress enacted a temporary spending bill. The 45-day stopgap spending measure did not include funding for the ongoing war in the Ukraine.

Here in Rhode Island, in another apparent example of brinkmanship, the state Department of Housing announced on Wednesday morning, Sept. 27, the awarding of some $10 million to prevent and respond to homelessness, under what is known as the Consolidated Homeless Fund.

The money was being given to 27 service providers, according to a news release issued by the Department of Housing.

Yet, as late as Monday afternoon, agency executives had written to Hannah Moore, the top aide to Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor, asking when the awards would be announced, expressing worry that “all current CHF awards expire in 5 days.” [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Calculated housing shortfalls.”

The news release listed the community agencies receiving the awards but did not detail the actual amounts being given to each agency, nor did it specify explicitly which community agencies had their grants renewed for up to a year, and which had their grants extended for a period of a few months.

The news about the latest round of state investments in homeless prevention in Rhode Island came on the same day that the U.S. Department of Justice in Rhode Island announced a five-year, $9 million settlement with Washington Trust, claiming that the bank had discriminated against Black and Hispanic residents trying to get mortgages between 2016 and 2021, accusing the bank of having engaged in what is known as “redlining,” discriminating against communities of color.

For its part, Washington Trust, in an unsigned written statement, claimed that it “vehemently” denied the allegations and only agreed to the settlement agreement to “avoid the expense and distraction of potential litigation,” as reported by the Providence Journal.

Arresting the unhoused
On a rainy Friday afternoon, Providence Police officers arrested Michael Nugent on the charge of trespassing, two days after being served with an eviction notice at his tent encampment at he Orms Street Route 95 overpass, as reported by Steve Ahlquist.

While the official charge was trespassing, Ahlquist wrote that Nugent’s crime was for “being poor and unhoused.”

That same day, Gov. Dan McKee apparently took a tour of several tent encampments in Woonsocket, at the invitation of Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, Ahlquist reported. The tour group, which was made up of approximately 25 people, made unannounced appearances at three encampments, according to Ahlquist.

Members of the Woonsocket City Council, including Council President Christopher Beauchamp, joined the tour, Ahlquist reported. The group was accompanied by as many as 10 officers from the Woonsocket Police Department. It is unknown if anyone on the tour had any expertise in social work, harm reduction, poverty, or housing issues. Stay tuned.

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