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Advocates Say Chafee ‘turned a blind eye’ to homeless crisis

Friday, January 18, 2013

 

While the overall reaction for Governor Lincoln Chafee’s budget proposal and State of the State address Wednesday night was generally positive, not everyone felt the night was a promising one for the future of Rhode Island.

In a statement released yesterday, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) expressed its outrage that the governor failed to address what they feel is a “growing crisis” in homelessness in the Ocean State during his annual speech/budget submission to the General Assembly.

Citing numbers released in December, from a study called the Winter Shelter Assessment Point in Time Count, RICH says Rhode Island currently has more homeless individuals in the state than shelters to house them and called the governor’s lack of a comment on the matter, and in his proposed budget, “unacceptable.”

“We truly are at a loss,” said Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of the RICH. “How can you possibly know what the current homeless situation is and do nothing?”

According to the Winter Shelter Assessment Point in Time Count, which takes a snapshot of the state’s homeless population on a given day in the Ocean State and compares how the figure adjusts over time, Rhode Island had 996 homeless individuals on December 12. That is 146 more than last year’s September, 2011 count and, RICH said, leaves the state with a deficit of 419 shelter beds because its capacity is 577.

“This year’s count also showed 728 Rhode Islanders in shelter beds, 112 Rhode Islanders on mats in seasonal shelters and 156 Rhode Islanders living outside,” the report said.

Because the Point in Time Count is a rather informal survey and doesn’t include residents “who are couch surfing or living in doubled up situations”, RICH said, the problem could actually be much worse.

That’s what makes Chafee’s lack of a statement on the matter during his address and in his budget a big concern for RICH.

“A very apropos sentiment that sums up the Governor’s response to the current homeless crisis is the famous quote by Edmund Burke that ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’,” said Dr. Eric Hirsch, the Chair of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Committee and a professor at Providence College. “This is definitely a case of a good man, the Governor, doing nothing to alleviate the suffering of Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness and in doing nothing he is most definitely allowing a preventable evil to triumph.”

RICH is particularly disappointed that the Governor failed to provide the money homeless advocates had pushed for to fund the Opening Doors Rhode Island program, an attempt at ending homelessness in the state.

“Their ask of $3.25 million would have created immediate relief, through rental vouchers, to move people into housing and additionally would have ensured funding for the emergency winter shelter system,” RICH said.

According to the RICH, the state plan would have “sharply decreased the number of people experiencing homelessness and the length of time people spend homeless.”

And because Chafee didn’t mention it, or homelessness as a whole, in either his budget or his address, advocates wonder how much of a priority it will be over the next fiscal year.

“The Governor is turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the needs of the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders,” Ryczek said.”He had the power to do something to alleviate the homeless crisis, to help those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, and instead, he chose to do nothing. I don’t know how he sleeps at night knowing that while he sleeps in comfort there are hundreds of Rhode Islanders who have no place to call home.”
 

 

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