News & Event
Updated: Jun 6, 2019 at 2:35 PM
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.
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.
Courtesy of Providence Journal
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is attempting to scale back federal efforts to enforce fair housing laws, freezing enforcement actions against local governments and businesses, including Facebook, while sidelining officials who have aggressively pursued civil rights cases.
The policy shift, detailed in interviews with 20 current and former Department of Housing and Urban Development officials and in internal agency emails, is meant to roll back the Obama administration’s attempts to reverse decades of racial, ethnic and income segregation in federally subsidized housing and development projects. The move coincides with the decision this month by Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, to strike the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement.
But Mr. Carson dismissed the idea he was abandoning the agency’s fair housing mission as “nonsense” in a memo to the department’s staff earlier this year, and reiterated that point during recent congressional hearings. A spokesman for the agency, Jereon Brown, said any programmatic changes are part of the routine recalibration undertaken from administration to administration, rather than a philosophical shift.
Advocates for the poor and career HUD officials say that Mr. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and his political appointees have begun weakening the department’s fair housing division at a critical moment. The agency now has its greatest leverage to right past wrongs thanks to the $28 billion in disaster recovery Community Development Block Grants that Congress has appropriated to rebuild the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
In an email in November, a top HUD official relayed the news that the head of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity division, Anna Maria Farías, had ordered a hold on about a half-dozen fair housing investigations given the highest priority under Mr. Carson’s most recent predecessor, Julián Castro. The freeze would be in effect “until further notice,” the official wrote.
The investigations, known as “secretary-initiated cases” to indicate their importance, had been used in the past to set precedent and to put other localities and developers on notice.
One of the delayed investigations looked at an ordinance in Hesperia, Calif., that prevented the siting of neighborhood group homes for parolees and former offenders throughout the city’s neighborhoods. HUD investigators saw the case as an important test of the federal resolve to rehabilitate low-level offenders, who often face housing and job discrimination when they are released, leaving them in need of government assistance.
Other cases that were held up involved questions about the accessibility to the disabled of new dwellings built by a pair of large residential construction companies, Toll Brothers and Epcon Communities, in New York City and Ohio, according to a department official.
One high-profile case never made it to that stage.
HUD had opened a case in late 2016 in response to a ProPublica article that said Facebook gives advertisers the ability to exclude specific groups it calls “ethnic affinities” from seeing their ads when their social media habits identified them as black, Hispanic or Asian-American.
But even before Ms. Farías was appointed, Mr. Carson’s aides ordered fair housing division officials to cancel a planned negotiating session with Facebook executives, leaving HUD to take Facebook at its word that the company’s “policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate.”
Then, after taking office, Ms. Farías sent a one-page letter to Facebook ordering, without explanation, the termination of a preliminary investigation into the company’s advertising practices.
Fair housing groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan saying that Facebook continues to discriminate against certain groups — including women, veterans with disabilities and single mothers — in the way that it allows advertisers to target audiences for their ads.
Ms. Farías, an official at HUD in the George W. Bush administration, has not initiated any high-priority cases of her own, according to agency officials. And she has made it clear that she does not intend to aggressively pursue cases that are not instituted “by my secretary,” meaning Mr. Carson, according to an official who spoke with her last year.
“For all intents and purposes, this administration is stopping the enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws at the worst possible time,” said Gustavo Velasquez, who served as assistant secretary for fair housing during the last three years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
“It’s not just the lack of an agenda, which is what I thought we were dealing with for the first year or so, but an attempt to reverse all the advances we made through regulations and enforcement actions,” said Mr. Velasquez, who now works for the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan progressive think tank in Washington.
This is not the first time critics have accused Mr. Carson, the only African-American man in President Trump’s cabinet, of trying to stymie civil rights enforcement. Shortly after he was confirmed last year, Mr. Carson tried to reverse an Obama-era program that would make it easier for recipients of housing vouchers to use them in affluent neighborhoods.
The move was struck down by the courts, and Mr. Carson abandoned the effort.
Last week, Mr. Carson told members of the Senate Banking Committee that he planned to delay another Obama-era rule that would have required local governments to create detailed plans to integrate racially divided neighborhoods.
And a provision barring localities from using federal funding to undertake such programs was stealthily inserted into the 2018 spending plan passed last week by Congress.
Despite these moves, Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the department was merely “looking to streamline” its enforcement efforts and to focus on new, neglected areas of discrimination.
“There is no mission shift. We are, in fact, putting more emphasis in sexual harassment” complaints, Mr. Brown wrote in an email. “In addition, 60 percent of the fair housing complaints we receive are disability related, and the majority of those have to do with service animals.”
The most significant fight over fair housing under Mr. Trump is taking place in Houston, a sprawling metropolis ranked in numerous studies as one of the United States’ most segregated cities, where overt opposition to a housing development based on race and income has drawn the attention of career HUD investigators.
In January 2017, before Mr. Obama left office, HUD lawyers accusedHouston officials of violating fair housing requirements cited in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, had killed a 233-unit mixed-income, mixed-race housing development slated for an affluent white area known for its high-end shopping and excellent schools.
HUD told the city to undertake specific remedies as a condition of continued funding, including the approval of the development, known as the Fountain View Project, and the adoption of tough new zoning laws.
In a scathing letter, HUD officials accused Mr. Turner, who is African-American, of succumbing to “racially motivated local opposition,” claiming that he caved to protests by white business owners and residents.
Mr. Turner has denied the accusation, arguing that he opposed the development because only 23 apartments were set aside for low-income families. He also objected to the idea of forced integration, putting him in agreement with Mr. Carson.
“I have chosen to stay in the neighborhood where I grew up, and I will not tell children in similar communities they must live somewhere else,” said Mr. Turner, who grew up in an all-black development.
But he might have had other reasons for opposing the project. In one meeting, Mr. Turner privately admitted that he hoped his position on the project would coax white Republican state legislators to support a bill needed to restructure Houston’s ailing pension system, according to a former federal official who attended the meeting.
The mayor denied that account.
“He never told anyone he opposed the Fountain View Project to win votes for his pension overhaul,” said Mary Benton, a spokeswoman for Mr. Turner.
Still, few Democrats have done quite so well in negotiating with the Trump administration as Mr. Turner, who began pressing Mr. Carson to release the city from the order shortly after Mr. Carson was confirmed.
Ms. Farías, with Mr. Carson’s blessing, began negotiating directly with Mr. Turner and other city officials. She largely excluded the career lawyers who had already begun drafting a tougher order — one that required the city to pay the Houston Housing Authority, Fountain View’s developer, as much as $14 million if it insisted on blocking the deal, according to an official in Houston.
But Mr. Turner, who believes the case to be a distraction from his city’s rebuilding effort, prevailed.
This month, Ms. Farías signed a new, less stringent agreement that other Houston officials eager to get federal money flowing into hard-hit neighborhoods — including Representative Al Green, a Democrat and harsh Carson critic — hailed as a victory.
But a coalition of local advocacy groups and national organizations are suing to block the disbursement of $5 billion in HUD recovery money unless the city abides by civil rights-era fair housing laws.
“If this isn’t a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, then damn it, I don’t know what is,” said John Henneberger, a director of Texas Housers, an advocacy group that filed a lawsuit last week in Federal District Court to enforce the original HUD letter.
“Fountain View was kind of the last stand,” he said. “We spent eight or nine years documenting systematic and pervasive racial discrimination in Houston — it is an open-and-shut case.”
Mr. Brown, the HUD spokesman, said the agreement required the city to “put in place new procedures for the building of affordable housing” and a study on how to increase affordable housing in the city’s Galleria district, where Fountain View was to be built.
There are other signs of change within HUD that could make it far less likely that similar cases would ever be pursued.
Ms. Farías, according to six current department officials, has told HUD managers that she intends to replace her top subordinate, Timothy Smyth, who played a central role in the Houston case. Bryan Greene, another senior manager, will be reassigned as part of the shake-up, the officials said.
Mr. Brown, in an email, said no one had been reassigned yet — but he added that it was “well within the assistant secretary’s authority after 120 days to reassign senior-level personnel.”
Morale at the division is sinking. At a meeting this month of HUD regional housing directors in Atlanta, Ms. Farías — a former vice chairwoman of the Bexar County, Tex., Republicans and a Trump campaign supporter — told one of the directors that she preferred older HUD employees because they were more likely to have had experience working for Republican administrations.
Earlier, according to two aides who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, she had told her staff that it was her intention to root out people she viewed as “Obama plants.”
Ms. Farías, through a spokesman, denied making those statements.
Courtesy of The New York Times
Providence, RI; On Monday, October 1, 2018 the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless hosts their 30th Anniversary Awards Breakfast. The breakfast is being held at the Crowne Plaza, in Warwick, RI from 8:30 – 11:00am. Recognizing the Coalition’s 30 years of working to ameliorate homelessness in Rhode Island the theme of this years’ Awards Program is “Together We Can Change the World.”
The Coalition is thrilled to welcome keynote speaker Jeff Olivet. Jeff has worked in homelessness, behavioral, and public health for more than two decades. As a teacher, writer, and policy leader, he shapes new directions for organizations across the United States. He has worked as a street outreach worker, case manager, coalition builder, activist, and trainer, as well as an inspirational writer and speaker. From 2010 to 2018, he was CEO of the Boston-based Center for Social Innovation, a dynamic social policy company. Jeff is Principal Investigator on multiple research studies funded by National Institutes of Health, and he conceived of and leads the SPARC Initiative (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities), a multi-city effort to address racial inequity in homelessness. His blogs and his Changing the Conversation podcast are followed widely, providing thought leadership for the field. Jeff divides his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Washington, DC.
As part of the Coalition’s 30th anniversary celebration they will be honoring a number of organizers, educators and community leaders recognizing their work, dedication and commitment to helping end homelessness in Rhode Island. More information about the award winners will be released soon.
The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless is organized to promote and preserve the dignity and quality of life for men, women, and children by pursuing comprehensive and cooperative solutions to the problems of housing and homelessness. They accomplish this through advocacy, education, collaboration, technical assistance, and selected direct services to homeless individuals and families.
The Coalition envisions a State of Rhode Island that refuses to let any man, woman, or child be homeless. For more information about the Coalition follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rihomeless
Courtesy of Providence American
Posted:Feb 9, 2018 at 7:53 PM
Updated:Feb 10, 2018 at 12:04 AM
For 11 years, United Way’s 2-1-1 has been helping Rhode Islanders in need, handling 194,735 calls in 2017, many from people seeking financial help, information about health services, or food.
“Hello. United Way. 2-1-1. May I help you?”
Each time call center specialist Tony Medeiros answers the phone, he has no idea what awaits him on the other end of the line. United Way of Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 call center provides round-the-clock free assistance to those looking for help finding affordable food, housing, health care, transportation and more.
Twice last week, Medeiros took calls from people who were suicidal. Sometimes the most desperate calls he gets, he says, are from people seeking help with a gambling addiction. Others need help finding affordable housing.
One woman calls regularly to ask the time or the temperature. Medeiros thinks she’s lonely, so he’s started asking her about her day.
“That’s OK. She just needs to talk to somebody for a few minutes,” he said recently.
The call center acts as a one-stop-shop for resources. Its workers are trained on the offerings and applications processes of various social service and health-care programs, as well as church groups, nonprofits, shelters and more. When a person calls with one problem, call-center workers will talk through their living conditions to make them aware of other services that could also be of help.
On Sunday, United Way celebrates National 2-1-1 Day. United Way’s 2-1-1 service has been available in Rhode Island 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, since 2007.
“I listen to their story,” said Medeiros, whose shift starts at 6 a.m. “They might be saying one thing but there’s more going on. ... Sometimes people are in a domestic violence situation and they don’t even recognize it.”
United Way 2-1-1 took 194,735 calls in Rhode Island last year, a slight decrease from the 195,344 calls in 2016. But call specialists are finding higher anxiety among callers and are spending considerably more time on each call. In December 2016, the average call time was a little more than two minutes. In December 2017, the average call time was 5½ minutes, the organization reports.
Nationally, 2-1-1 answered a total of more than 14.3 million requests for help in 2017. The service is available for 94 percent of Americans, according to a spokesman for the United Way of Rhode Island, and in most parts of Canada.
Sandi Connors, executive vice president and director of strategic marketing and communications at United Way, said the trends in Rhode Island calls are reflected at 2-1-1 centers across the country. It’s not yet clear what is driving the changes, she said.
Some of the most difficult calls come from homeless families seeking shelter, Connors said. Some 72 families are currently on a waiting list for space in a family shelter.
“The hardest days are when we get the calls we can’t help,” Connors said.
Those days are often countered by others in which workers feel they’ve made a difference.
Program manager Tina Pearl remembered a call that came in to the hotline on Thanksgiving from an elderly woman who said there was an “uninvited guest” in her home. She had already called the police, who checked out the situation and determined there wasn’t an intruder. But the call center worker and Pearl determined they should also make a home visit.
It turned out there wasn’t anyone else in the home, Pearl said. The woman hadn’t eaten but she thought someone was coming over for dinner. She was confused, suffering from dementia and other health problems. They were eventually able to get her to the hospital.
“That’s why we go to work every day,” Pearl said.
2-1-1 calls, by the numbers
Here are some of the most common reasons Rhode Islanders called 2-1-1 in 2017.
Financial assistance: 162,936
Health information: 112,411
Updated Nov 11, 2018 at 10:28 PM
U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report released on Nov. 1 found that the total number of reported veterans as homeless in 2018 decreased 5.4 percent since last year and fell to nearly half the number of homeless veterans reported in 2010.
Veteran homelessness in the U.S. continues to decline, according to a national estimate.
In announcing the latest annual estimate, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said that communities are reporting fewer veterans in their shelters and on their streets. Exhibit 1.7 of the report shows that, among all states, Rhode Island is listed in the top 10, with 1,180 homeless and 69 unsheltered. See the entire report online at bit.ly/2kthLvp.
Each year, thousands of communities around the country conduct one-night “Point-in-Time” estimates of the number of people in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs and unsheltered locations. This year’s estimate finds that 37,878 veterans were homeless in January 2018, compared with 40,020 reported in January 2017. HUD estimates that among the total number of reported homeless veterans in 2018, 23,312 were found in sheltered settings while volunteers counted 14,566 veterans living in places not meant for human habitation.
HUD also reports a nearly 10 percent decline among female veterans experiencing homelessness. In January 2018, communities reported 3,219 homeless female veterans, compared with 3,571 one year earlier.
The decrease in veteran homelessness can largely be attributed to the effectiveness of the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which combines permanent HUD rental assistance with case management and clinical services from the VA. HUD-VASH is complemented by VA programs that use modern tools and technology to identify the most vulnerable veterans and rapidly connect them to the appropriate interventions to become and remain stably housed.
Last year alone, more than 4,000 veterans, many experiencing chronic homelessness, found permanent housing and critically needed support services through the HUD-VASH program. An additional 50,000 veterans found permanent housing and supportive services through VA’s homeless programs.
HUD and VA have a wide range of programs that prevent and end homelessness among veterans, including health care, housing solutions, job training and education. More information about the VA’s homeless programs is available at www.VA.gov/homeless.
Veterans who are homeless or are at imminent risk of becoming homeless should contact the Providence VA Medical Center online at www.providence.va.gov/services/homeless/index.asp or call (401) 273-7100 and ask to speak to a homeless coordinator. You can also call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET. More information about HUD is available at www.hud.gov.
Items of interest
— The Providence VA Medical Center and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Providence Regional Office are hosting a joint veterans’ town hall meeting from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16, at the Providence VAMC, fifth-floor auditorium, main building, 830 Chalkstone Ave.
Benefits updates and a Q-and-A session will be held.
— The Lincoln Knights of Columbus will honor the service of veterans and first responders to the country and communities with a free breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 8 to 11 a.m., at the Columbus Club of Lincoln, at 171 Jenckes Hill Rd. They will also collect new items to support Operation ROVAC (Remembering Our Veterans at Christmas), which will be given to the men and women residents of the Bristol Rhode Island Veterans Home. Men’s and women’s clothing, winter hats, gloves, scarves, shoes, slippers and handkerchiefs are needed. Books and food are not needed, but there is a definite need for large-print word search books, DVD movies, music CDs, greeting cards, print magnifiers with lights, large-size toiletries, Dove and Irish Spring soap, stick deodorant, shaving cream, cologne and perfume.
— To assist veterans in navigating benefits and other services available to them, the Woonsocket Harris Public Library, 303 Clinton St., will host three informational sessions, from 10 to 11 a.m. on Nov. 17, Dec. 15 and Jan. 12, all Saturdays, in the library’s main program room. Tim McGorty, Woonsocket Veterans Service adviser, will answer questions and assist veterans with the benefits process. For more information, call McGorty at (401) 830-2599 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Veterans of Foreign Wars: Gatchell Post 306 Auxiliary, 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, 171 Fountain St., Pawtucket; Post 916, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, 155 High St., South Kingstown; Lymansville Memorial Post 10011, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, 354 Fruit Hill Ave., North Providence; Kelley-Gazzerro Post 2812, 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, 1418 Plainfield St., Cranston.
— Vietnam Veterans of America Greater Providence Chapter 273, 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Kelley-Gazzerro VFW Post 2812, 1418 Plainfield St., Cranston.
— Korean War Veterans Association Northern R.I. Chapter 3, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Glocester Senior Center, 1210 Putnam Pike, Chepachet.
— U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary: Flotilla 72, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, USCG Sector Southeastern New England office, 20 Risho Ave., East Providence; Providence Flotilla 78, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, Aspray Boathouse, 2 East View St., Warwick.
— U.S. Submarine Veterans Rhode Island Base, 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, R.I. Aviation Hall of Fame building, 6854 Post Rd., North Kingstown, and all submariners are welcome.
— U.S. Navy Seabee Veterans of America Island X-1 Davisville, 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Seabee Museum, 21 Iafrate Way, North Kingstown.
— Fleet Reserve Branch 42, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Seabee Museum, 21 Iafrate Way, North Kingstown.
— Jewish War Veterans of the USA Post 23, 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, Tamarisk Assisted Living Community, 3 Shalom Drive, Warwick, business meeting; for more information call Steven Musen at (401) 463-5159 or send an email to email@example.com.
— American Legion Smithfield’s Balfour-Cole Post 64, Christmas party, 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, 170 Pleasant View Ave.
Send veterans’ meeting and news items to George W. Reilly at VeteransColumn@gmail.com.
On any given day, more than a thousand Rhode Islanders are living on the streets – in cars, in bus or train stations, in shelters, or sleeping on the floor at the home or apartment of a relative or friend. On any given day, thousands of Rhode Islanders are clinging to civility, living in housing they can’t afford, foregoing food, medicines or healthcare insurance.
This is the picture of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Rhode Island, a picture painted by executives from Kids Count to homeless coalitions to agencies dedicated to providing aid to underserved Rhode Islanders.
These are issues that are also largely ignored by local and state governments because, as many acknowledge, the victims of homelessness and lack of affordable housing, are not your most prolific voters.
WhatsUpNewp has been rolling out a series of stories focusing on both the homeless and on affordable housing, hopeful to raise awareness and instill a sense of urgency throughout government. This is the second of our stories.
In our first story we focused on the affordable housing law that was passed in Rhode Island nearly three decades ago, and the fact that only five of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns had achieved the 10 percent threshold mandated by the law.
A House of Representatives subcommittee, formed in 2016 to explore why so few communities had met the requirement, reported back this year, with perhaps its chief recommendation to extend the commission another year.
Key among its recommendations to date: “rethink what it means to meet the requirements of minimum housing”; and measure the impact that affordable housing has on communities, and the correlation between affordable housing and public health. The commission said it met eight times in two years.
A 2016 study by Housing Works for Rhode Island Housing said the state needs to add 30,000 housing units over the next nine years to meet projected needs.
“This is a very complex and nuanced issue,” said Commission Vice Chairman, Rep. Michael Morin, D-Woonsocket, in a commission press release issued a few months ago.
But there are those who fail to see the complexities, instead of seeing it as a law that’s unenforceable.
“There’s no teeth to the regulation, no penalty, no incentive,” said Stephanie Geller, senior policy analyst at RI Kids Count. “The problem is not getting better, it’s getting worse.”
In towns throughout Rhode Island “people think affordable housing will lower property values,” she said.
But Geller and others like the Johnny Cake Center’s Lee Eastborne and the Warm Center’s Russ Partridge are quick to note the cost of not having enough affordable housing is more severe illnesses, food related issues, poor school attendance and outcomes that come from families having to choose whether to pay the rent or mortgage, put enough food on the table, buy health care insurance, or buy prescription medications that could forestall more severe illnesses.
Housing Works defines affordable housing as living in housing in which you pay no more than 30 percent of your gross income on rent or mortgage payments, which meets the percentage federal guideline for “affordability.” Kids Count said some families pay as much as 60 percent of gross income for housing.
According to the Kids Count latest Fact Book, very low-income families are paying well above the 30 percent threshold in every city and town in the state. Even in Central Falls, perhaps the lowest income city in the state, low income and poverty level families are paying nearly 40 percent of their gross incomes for housing. And, in Newport, one of the five towns meeting the affordable living threshold, very low-income families pay half their monthly income for housing.
According to the Rhode Island Housing and Community Development’s 2014 report on low- and moderate-income housing by community, the latest available on line, five communities have met the minimum threshold: Central Falls, 11.83 percent; New Shoreham (Block Island), 10.63 percent; Newport, 17.13 percent; Providence, 14.79 percent; and Woonsocket, 15.89 percent. Newport, Woonsocket, Central Falls, and Providence are among 10 communities identified as communities with substantial public housing.
Statewide 8.3 percent of 445,902 housing units statewide meet the minimum. The number does not include seasonal housing.
Not surprisingly, towns with large lot size requirements have the least percentage of affordable housing. Many, like Little Compton with 0.56 percent affordable housing and two-acre minimum lots, and West Greenwich with 1.41 percent affordable housing and one acre lots, require minimum house lots of an acre or more.
Meanwhile, there are those who simply cannot afford any housing and are counted among the state’s homeless.
According to Kids Count there are 1,245 children in public schools that have been identified as homeless by the schools. Geller said the standard used by schools is the McKinney-Veto Definition of Homeless as provided by the National Center for Homeless Education.
“The term homeless children and youth,” McVinney-Vento said, “means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including children and youth living temporarily in homes with other persons due to a loss of housing; children and youth who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds “due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations”; living in emergency or transitional shelters; or who are abandoned in hospitals.
It goes on to mention cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
Geller said the numbers are under reported as parents fear that by reporting children as homeless, they will be taken from them. She also noted that the 1,245 number only includes school age children.
Kids Count also uses another measure for homes, a point in time count, which tries to identify the number of homeless individuals on any single day. For January 25, 2017 for instance, on that single day, there were 1,180 individuals reported as homeless, a report compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The demographic make-up includes children, families, the mentally ill, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, among others. On that day, 184 were characterized as mentally ill, 121 victims of domestic violence, 99 chronic substance abuse, and 36 unaccompanied youth, and 31 veterans.
Crossroads Rhode Island, on its web page, described the report as a “snapshot of homelessness,” and that in Rhode Island the number increased by 1.7 percent, with an “alarming” increase in “chronic homelessness,” up by 66.6 percent, and families increasing by 25 percent.
“PIT (Point in Time) counts are problematic,” Crossroads said, “in that they count people only for one night during the coldest time of year when shelters are more likely to be full. But, that is also when more people without homes double up with friends or family and are not counted.
“Most counts do not include homeless people who are incarcerated, although their numbers are significant. Enumerators cannot be expected to cover every location, especially on a cold and dark winter night, and many people living in hidden places will be missed.”
Crossroads, like so many others, said there is a lack of “stock of housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels. There is no effective state-wide coordinated effort focused on housing development and programs for people who are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk for homelessness.”
Crossroads is calling for a greater investment of state and federal funds for housing, “We Have to Stay Focused on Housing,” Crossroads said, “Housing is the only solution to homelessness.”
WhatsUpNewp was recently awarded an Impact-Designed Investigative Grant (I-DIG) for investigative reporting from Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) and the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation. What’sUpNewp, who was one of 18 grant winners across the country, is using our I-DIG grant to fund this project on Affordable Housing.
Courtesy of WhatsUpNewp
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