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ProJo: Annual count shows fewer homeless Rhode Islanders

PAWTUCKET — A January count showed a drop in the number of homeless people in Rhode Island, but advocates say the survey doesn’t tell the full story.

“Progress is certainly being made, but ultimately the Point in Time Count alone is an imperfect way to capture the full scope of homelessness in Rhode Island,” Caitlin Frumerie, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, said in a press release.

Rhode Island’s annual Point in Time Count taken Jan. 23 and released Thursday showed that on any given night 1,055 Rhode Islanders are homeless, down from 1,101 in the 2018 count, according to a coalition press release.

However, the count also showed an increase in the number of unsheltered homeless people in Rhode Island. The 71 counted this year was up from 51 people counted in 2018, the coalition said.

The Point in Time Count is mandated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and figures in federal funding for states. It counts all individuals, sheltered and unsheltered, who are homeless on a given night in January.

To calculate the number of unsheltered homeless people, census takers have to go out, find and interview them. Frumerie thinks that group is undercounted.

“There’s a lot of nooks and crannies in the state, so it’s hard to have outreach everywhere,” Frumerie said in an interview. “How do you really know if you caught everybody?”

Frumerie also noted that there’s no way to count the number of homeless Rhode Islanders who are “couch-surfing” — staying with relatives or friends.

The coalition’s Annual Homeless & Housing Count suggests a higher number than the Point in Time Count. It reported that 3,342 Rhode Islanders, including 721 families, were homeless in 2018.

“The numbers certainly don’t lie on one critical thing: literally thousands of Rhode Islanders — including our elders, children, and veterans — continue to experience homelessness,” Frumerie said. “We hear from them the struggles they face: the near impossibility of finding housing thanks to rising costs, discrimination based on source of income that shuts out even affordable housing, difficulty connecting with resources, stigma for being homeless. That status quo is not acceptable.”

Progress has been made, according to Frumerie. The solution, she said, isn’t more shelters but more housing.

“We’ve been able to house more people,” she said. “The numbers are going down, but they’re not going down as quickly as we’d like.”

The coalition is pushing a pair of bills at the Rhode Island State House that would ban discrimination in housing based on source of income and sealing eviction court records when the verdict is found in favor of the tenant, according to Frumerie. The coalition also supports a bond in the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s budget that would provide 125 vouchers for permanent supportive housing.

More information on the count is available at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless’s website.



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