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Posted Jan 3, 2018 at 5:09 PM
Updated Jan 3, 2018 at 5:09 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Crossroads Rhode Island will continue to take in sex offenders at a homeless shelter in Cranston under an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit challenging a new state law that limits the number of convicted sex offenders who can be housed in homeless shelters.
The parties met in chambers Wednesday afternoon with U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith.
According to Lynette Labinger, a lawyer for the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, Judge Smith recognized that there are significant legal and factual issues that the state has not yet had a chance to address. The parties agreed that while they are developing the legal issues, no one would be turned away as a result of the new law that allows only 10 percent of shelter beds to go to sex offenders, she said.
Crossroads has not been turning anyone away since the law took effect Jan. 1, she said.
The Rhode Island ACLU is seeking to block the state from enforcing the law. The suit was filed last week on behalf of a group of registered sex offenders and the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project.
In court papers, the ACLU faults the law as being aimed at Harrington Hall in Cranston, a state-owned emergency shelter operated by Crossroads on the Pastore campus, that has become a place of last resort for sex offenders whose options for residency have been limited by restrictive residency laws. The hall has 112 beds, and the new law would limit to 11 the number of beds that could go to sex offenders.
The lawsuit charges that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause and as well as anti-discrimination laws.
The lawsuit also claims that putting sex offenders on the street will make it more difficult for law enforcement to monitor them; decrease their access to community services and increase the risk to public safety; and, by forcing them to shelter outside during the winter, impose life-threatening conditions on them.
Posted Jan 2, 2018 at 4:52 PM
A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday will hear a lawsuit by the R.I. affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the new law, which imposes a 10-percent cap on the number of convicted sex offenders who can be housed in homeless shelters.
PROVIDENCE — A lawsuit that would protect homeless sex offenders from being relocated from a Cranston shelter goes before a U.S. District judge Wednesday afternoon.
The law, which took effect Monday, limits the number of convicted sex offenders who can be housed in homeless shelters. Harrington Hall in Cranston, a state-owned shelter operated by Crossroads Rhode Island, has become a place of last resort for sex offenders whose options for residency have been limited by restrictive residency laws.
The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to prevent the new regulation from taking effect. The suit was filed last week on behalf of a group of registered sex offenders and the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project. It will be heard before U.S. District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith on Wednesday.
Laura Calenda, a spokeswoman for Crossroads, said her agency’s understanding is that the law limiting the number of sex offenders stands, regardless of the ACLU’s lawsuit.
Harrington Hall, which has 112 beds, is an emergency shelter for men experiencing homelessness. It is also one of the few places in Rhode Island where homeless men who are sex offenders can find temporary shelter, according to Calenda.
The new legislation limits the number of beds at Harrington Hall being occupied by sex offenders to 11. As of New Year’s Eve, Calenda said, there were 12 sex offenders staying at the shelter.
“Because Crossroads is committed to ensuring community safety, while also helping homeless or at-risk individuals and families secure stable homes, we have been working diligently to comply with the new law for the last six months,” Calenda said. “Since July, we have found permanent housing for 47 men. Of those, 36 are sex offenders.”
Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU, said his agency is moving forward with the suit regardless of Crossroad’s effort to reduce the population of sex offenders at the Cranston shelter.
The suit charges that the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and also violates anti-discrimination laws.
“New Year’s Day should be filled with hope, joy and goodwill,” Brown said. “For some people, as a result of this callous law, it will be anything but that. We hope this lawsuit can stop this cold-hearted law from taking effect.”
On Twitter: @lborgprojocom
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Last month, a bill that would cap the proportion of registered sex offenders in homeless shelter beds at 10 percent for shelters whose capacity exceeds 50 people passed in the Rhode Island State House. A coalition of activists are now asking via petition that Gov. Gina Raimondo veto the bill, arguing that the legislation is “against the public interest.”
The bill passed the state Senate in June after the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended it for passage. The bill was passed in concurrence by the Rhode Island House of Representatives Sept. 19, and the veto petition was sent to Raimondo Sept. 26.
Seven individuals, including several directors of homeless shelters and non-profits, co-signed the petition to the governor. Forty to 50 individuals will be displaced if the bill is passed, which would create a public safety concern both for the displaced individuals, as well as the larger community, according to the petition. If passed, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and the petitioners note that this would leave people homeless in the dead of winter. This would also increase risks of recidivism, petitioners say.
Perceptions of the bill are sharply polarized, and while detractors argue that the legislation jeopardizes public safety, supporters say the bill actually defends it.
State Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, is a co-sponsor of the bill and introduced it alongside State Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston. Cranston is the location of Rhode Island’s largest homeless shelter, Harrington Hall. Harrington has 112 beds which are open to single men. “Harrington Hall has the highest number per capita of registered sex offenders transported there at any given time in the state of Rhode Island,” Lombardi said. This disproportionate concentration of sex offenders in a single neighborhood was the impetus for the bill especially because “the residence hall surrounds at least three elementary schools,” he said.
The question of appropriate maintenance of distance between schools and sex offenders is no new issue in Rhode Island. Convicted sex offenders have been restricted from living closer than 300 feet from any school property since 2008, The Providence Journal reported. In June 2015, the General Assembly expanded this to 1,000 feet for Level III sex offenders — those most likely to re-offend. This law placed 64 percent of Providence off-limits to these registered sex offenders, according to the Journal. In October 2015, the lawsuit Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin was filed challenging the law’s constitutionality as violating due process; after the case was filed, a judge placed a restraining order on the law, effective to this day and as long as the case remains unresolved.
“It’s very sad that we have a significant population of people who are required to register as sex offenders that have no place to live but Harrington Hall,” said Andrew Horwitz, petitioner and assistant dean for experiential education at Roger Williams University. Although the 1,000-foot rule is not in effect, the critics of this bill say that sex offenders do not have options other than Harrington Hall because of policies in other shelters and the 300-foot restriction. “We’ve got such incredible restrictions on where registered sex offenders are allowed to live that pretty much any place in Rhode Island that has affordable housing is off-limits for somebody who is a registered sex offender,” Horwitz added.
Concerning the safety of the public, “what reduces recidivism is stability,” Horwitz said. “When you render somebody homeless” by limiting the number of beds available to them in shelters, “you destabilize them,” he said.
One of the “public safety” concerns in Lombardi’s district is cases of sex offenders being dropped off at the shelter and loitering if no beds were available. He characterized the bill as an “incentive to have all of these homeless shelters share — not overburden Harrington Hall only with registered sex offenders.”
Lombardi had not heard about the petition but was not surprised to learn there was one; “there was a very vibrant debate” in the Senate, he recalled, “given the polarizing issues involved; on one side the issue of public safety and on the other side is the issue of homelessness.” Though he supports the bill, Lombardi recognizes more progress is needed to be made toward finding permanent solutions to homelessness, including for sex offenders. “We need the judiciary, we need law enforcement, we need the public housing folks,” he said.
The petition proposes an alternative path from the bill: a “study commission” that would devote time and resources to considering viable options for housing for registered sex offenders, which could inform future legislation. It also suggests potential amendments to the bill, such as changing the date it would take effect and limiting its applicability to Level III Sex offenders.
Horwitz himself is in favor of building more homeless shelters and having a more decentralized homeless system to relieve Harrington and the neighborhood; but fundamentally he said he views shelters themselves as only rudimentary solutions to homelessness. He would prefer legislation creating more affordable housing and repealing “irrational” housing restrictions to address Harrington’s predicament.
The main plaintiff in Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin, John Freitas, was a Level III sex offender. Barbara Freitas, director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and formerly homeless herself, is his widow. She was another of the seven signatories of the petition.
Freitas echoed Horwitz’s concerns. The bill’s “attempt to keep the public safe is failing miserably, because they will end up in the street,” she said. Freitas explained that sex offenders are at least accounted for in a homeless shelter due to the requirement to register. This means that “public safety” is better served by keeping homeless shelters’ numbers of sex offenders uncapped for community members and visitors alike.
Freitas does not expect Raimondo to heed the petition. Freitas says she was part of a previous attempt to convince Raimondo to veto the 300-foot rule, without success. “Nobody wants to have the veto go through about sex offenders. That’s a sure way to have yourself not get elected,” Freitas said.
If the governor were to veto the bill, there would be no effort by the legislative branch to override the veto, according to Lombardi. The bill was transmitted to the governor Oct. 3. She is required to sign or veto legislation within six days of transmittal. The bill is “currently under consideration for action in the coming days,” according to the governor’s press office.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that the bill was passed in the State Senate in May, In fact, it was passed in the State Senate in June. A previous version also contained an incorrect titled for Andrew Horwitz, petitioner and assistant dean for experiential education at Roger Williams University. The Herald regrets the error.
Courtesy of The Brown Daily Herald
Posted Apr 17, 2018 at 3:35 PM
Updated Apr 17, 2018 at 10:13 PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I — Richard Cudworth’s new studio apartment on Dexter Street already looks homey seven months after he moved in, cluttered with a bike he’s fixed up, an empty bird cage he might give to his girlfriend and a keyboard he’s offering to sell to his visitors.
It’s worlds away from where he lived for the nine years before he arrived: the Harrington Hall homeless shelter in Cranston, cramped not with Cudworth’s personal effects but rows and rows of metal bunk beds and thin foam mattresses.
“This,” the 60-year-old Cudworth said, surveying his new home at the Mike Terry Apartments on Tuesday, “is a pretty beautiful place.”
Cudworth is one of 172 formerly homeless men who have moved from Harrington Hall — where 112 men can sleep at night in a converted auditorium — to permanent housing since Crossroads Rhode Island took over operation of the shelter less than two years ago.
Crossroads emphasizes a “housing first” philosophy. Crossroads officials said previously getting a job or getting sober was a precondition to getting a home. But jobs are hard to find from a homeless shelter. So now housing comes first.
“Ultimately, our end goal is to move everyone in Harrington Hall into housing so that we don’t have a shelter with 112 beds,” said Karen Santilli, the president of Crossroads Rhode Island, which started running the facility in July 2016. “We need to continue investing in programs that are solution-focused.”
Harrington Hall in Cranston has seen its nightly average population dip from 140 in December 2015 to 105 in March, the group said Monday, a decrease of 25 percent. Some people stay for short periods, but others, like Cudworth, have stayed for years.
Crossroads’ new approach was jarring at first for the men who stayed at Harrington Hall, Santilli said. Some men were upset about the possibility of leaving Harrington, calling the bunk bed-lined shelter that’s closed during the day their home.
“Why are you doing this to us?” Santilli recalls some of the men asking.
“I said, ‘This is not your home,’” Santilli recalled. ”‘You deserve better than this. And we’re not going to set you up for failure.’”
The shelter has also seen a reduction in the average number of registered sex offenders who stay there, from 53 a night in December 2015 to 18 a night in March 2018, a decline of about two-thirds.
That decrease comes on the heels of a new state law requiring shelters to cap the number of sex offenders who can stay at one shelter at 10 percent of the total number of beds. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has filed suit objecting to the law, but the state has stayed enforcement pending the outcome of the case in federal court.
The R.I. Department of Corrections in November awarded Crossroads a $1-million contract to help plan for the release of registered sex offenders from prison. Of the 172 men who have moved from Harrington to housing, 84 were registered sex offenders, Crossroads said.
Finding housing for registered sex offenders who are released from prison helps prevent them from being clustered in one area, and also lends stability to their lives. That helps reduce the likelihood that they’ll re-offend, Santilli said. The men present unique challenges when they get out of prison, because affordable housing is already scarce, and the men can’t live within certain distances of schools and day care centers.
For all of its clients, Crossroads offers case managers who help determine whether the men have income, housing vouchers or qualify for rental assistance. The Mike Terry Apartments opened in December 2016, and is owned and managed by Crossroads itself.
Even while reducing the number of people who stay at Harrington Hall, Crossroads has faced headwinds, societal and political. More social services are needed generally as the opioid epidemic rages in Rhode Island, and the nation, though Santilli said the burden has been heaviest for women and families, which Harrington does not serve.
Another challenge: Crossroads saw a nearly 29 percent cut from 2017 to 2018 for a pool of city, state and federal rental-assistance funding, according to the group. The rental assistance lasts for a maximum of two years, Santilli said, and most people don’t need it after nine months to a year.
“Without that support, people will continue in shelter and cost the state much more,” Santilli said.
Cudworth, the formerly homeless man who now lives on Dexter Street, got the support of Crossroads. He’s been sober for four years, and disabled since a car hit him in 1985, he said. His nine years at Harrington were among the longest anyone had been there, but it took his case manager only about three months or so to find him his new place, he said.
“They moved,” Cudworth said. “They got something done.”
On Twitter: @bamaral44
PROVIDENCE (AP) – Advocates for the homeless are trying to block a Rhode Island law that limits the number of convicted sex offenders who can stay at homeless shelters. Lawyers representing the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and six registered sex offenders filed a lawsuit Friday over the law that’s set to go into effect on Monday. Their complaint says that law is unconstitutional and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Providence Journal reported. They are asking the judge for an injunction that would prevent the state from enforcing new law. The law puts a 10-percent limit on the number of shelter beds that can be given to registered sex offenders. The law was pushed by Cranston lawmakers who said they were upset with the number of sex offenders staying at Harrington Hall shelter.
Courtesy of Westerly Sun
Homelessness in Rhode Island is on the rise. The state saw a 1.7 percent increase in homelessness this year according to a new report by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Statewide, 1,180 people experienced homelessness on a single day earlier this year. Nearly 400 were children in homeless families; almost 100 were veterans. Of even greater concern, Rhode Island’s chronically homeless population nearly doubled, increasing from 136 to 240.
After years of successfully reducing homelessness, Rhode Island’s homeless numbers are heading in the wrong direction. The solution to ending homelessness is actually pretty simple. Our “Housing First” model effectively gets people off the streets, out of shelter — and into permanent, affordable housing with the support services necessary to help them remain housed. Unfortunately, Rhode Island simply does not have enough housing that is affordable and meets people's needs.
Fortunately, social service agencies like Crossroads Rhode Island step in to bridge the gap. But hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal funding cuts, including the loss of Housing Stabilization dollars through Medicaid, Road Home and the Neighborhood Opportunities Program, are significantly reducing the amount of aid available for 2018 and beyond.
It’s the chronically homeless, the state’s most vulnerable population, who are likely to pay the price. Many of these individuals struggle with physical and mental illness, hunger and poverty — fighting every day just to survive. Without adequate funding for housing and support programs, they will end up back on the street, sleeping in doorways, camping under highway overpasses or staying in shelters.
Recently, 283 people slept in a Crossroads shelter, including 53 children in 27 families. Others sought refuge at different shelters — or bundled up in outdoor places where no one should have to spend a cold, winter night.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but helping those people find permanent housing solutions will ultimately cost taxpayers far less than keeping them in shelters. Research shows that the chronically homeless are much higher users of Medicaid, police, fire and rescue and other services.
A 2013 study of 67 chronically homeless Rhode Island Medicaid users revealed charges of $59,651 per person, more than double Medicaid charges for the average housed, disabled adult. In fact, over the course of 26 months, those 67 individuals cost the state $9.3 million in Medicaid costs alone.
Over the last three years, Crossroads helped more than 3,000 people move into permanent housing—and stay there. Several had been living in shelters for 10 years or more. Ten years. Let that sink in. Imagine how much it cost taxpayers to shelter those individuals for more than a decade, never mind what it would be like to live in a homeless shelter for that long.
The bottom line is that programs like “Housing First” save more taxpayer dollars than reducing funding. Working together, we can reduce the number of men, women and children experiencing homelessness, help save taxpayer dollars and find every Rhode Islander a safe place to call home this holiday season.
— Karen Santilli is president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island.
Posted: Sep 06, 2017 06:00 AM EDT
Updated: Sep 06, 2017 06:00 AM EDT
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (WPRI) - Hundreds of Rhode Island children are starting the school year without a permanent place to live, forcing them to stay with other families, in motels or in the most dire circumstances, on the streets.
But a homeless shelter in Middletown is working to support families by assisting mothers to find jobs and affordable housing while also trying to keep children from falling off track in school.
Lucy's Hearth has been in operation for 33 years, but recently moved into a new building that gives small rooms to 15 families, according to Jennifer Barrera, the organization's program director. Barrera said most families stay in the shelter for between three and six months, although she acknowledged some end up staying longer.
"The best outcomes for us, for the families, are that they achieve permanent affordable housing, that the moms and children, actually the whole family, increases their self-sufficiency," Barrera told Eyewitness News. "So they're getting higher-paying jobs, or they're getting education or training opportunities."
More than 1,000 public school students in Rhode Island were considered homeless during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent available data provided to Rhode Island Kids Count, the state's leading child advocacy organization. Providence had the most homeless students (146), but Middletown was second with 117. Only eight communities in the state reported zero homeless kids.
Children who do not have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence are considered homeless, according to the McKinney-Vento Act, a federal law passed in 1987. In Rhode Island, 64% of homeless students were "doubled up" with other families, 25% lived in shelters, 10% lived in hotels or motels and 1% were unsheltered in the 2015-16 school year, according to Kids Count.
The federal law also allows students who are considered homeless to remain in their home school districts even if they are living outside the district. In Middletown's case, many children who live at Lucy's Hearth during the spring or summer end up enrolling in the district's public schools.
Barrera said between 40 and 50 children from newborns to 18-year-olds live at Lucy's Hearth. While the facility is in excellent condition, she said the goal is limit the amount time families stay in the shelter.
"Although this is a great facility and we work really hard so that the families are healthy and safe and the children have all of their needs met, they still are experiencing an episode of homelessness," Barrera said. "And children who experience homelessness are at risk for a whole host of other issues, even into their adulthood."
Barrera said most homeless children are at risk of facing additional educational difficulties and more likely to have chronic health conditions like asthma and respiratory issues. She said the shelter works with school districts to provide transportation and tutoring to those in need.
She said many of the families that come to Lucy's Hearth have faced significant trauma, including family separation, violence and substance abuse. At the same time, the cost of housing has a continued to grow. A single parent earning the minimum wage would need to work 81 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in Rhode Island, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
And some of the biggest consequences from being homeless can be felt in school. Barrera said teachers see kids who are sleeping in different places every night, are hungry and aren't dressed properly, making it difficult for students to focus on classroom work.
"Homelessness affects all of us and even if you don't know what it means to be homeless or you know someone who is homeless or you see a panhandler on the street, homelessness for children is a great problem," Barrera said.
Barrera said the most important thing adults can do to help homeless families is get involved through donations to shelters or volunteering their time. Donations to Lucy's Hearth can be made here.
Courtesy of WPRI 12
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