RI Coalition for the Homeless To Hold Candlelight Vigil

Monday, October 27, 2014


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The RI Coalition for the Homeless will hold a Candlelight Vigil on October 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Grace Church Cemetery.

The Vigil will honor Wendy Tallo and Irene Weh, two women who both lived on the streets for years, and both died at the cemetery.

Wendy and Irene are the sixth and seventh deaths this year of homeless persons living outside.

“No doubt about it, homelessness kills,” said Barbara Kalil, Co-Director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP) and a member of the Statewide Outreach Committee. “But it doesn’t have to. We know the cure/solution is permanent affordable housing and it angers me that we aren’t housing our homeless residents more quickly.”

According to the Homelessness Resource Center for the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “The results of a recent study in England confirm what decades of research in the United States and worldwide have found: homelessness kills. People who experience homelessness have a morality rate four times that of the general population. They die decades earlier, often from treatable medical conditions. Women who experience homelessness are especially vulnerable.”

The Statewide Outreach Committee of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, which is comprised of outreach workers from around the state, made a decision at the beginning of the year that if anyone died homeless while outside, they would hold a vigil to bring visibility to the fact of Rhode Islanders dying on the streets.

The Vigil will open with a song by Officer Jimmy Winters of the Newport Police Department and a long-time advocate for those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. Winters is the founder of the Housing Hotline, a non-profit organization that helps people with any kind of housing issue or homelessness.

Advocates pointed to the 2013 homeless figures that show a decrease in the number of homeless Rhode Islanders for the first time since 2007 as evidence that we, indeed, can do better.

In February the 2013 Annual Statistics were released that showed a decrease by 9% in the total numbers of homeless from 4,868 in 2012 to 4,447 in 2013. The Annual Statistics also showed decreases from 2012 to 2013 for children, families and veterans entering homelessness.

The decrease has been attributed to a combination of a recovering economy and the homeless system beginning to see the benefits of programs outlined in Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness.

Advocates contend that the decline in the homeless numbers is a result of funding focused on permanent supportive housing and they urged legislators to stay committed and focused on Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness and to make sure that it continues to be implemented and fully funded.

Opening Doors Rhode Island outlines a plan that significantly transforms the provision of services to Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. Consistent with the new federal plan to end homelessness, the plan seeks to decrease the numbers of people experiencing homelessness and the length of time people spend homeless.

The Vigil will conclude with candles being lit as the sun sets and Officer Winters playing music.

“Our message tonight is that we can do better,” said Don Boucher, Assistant Executive Director for Riverwood Mental Health Services. “We have to stop looking away because when we look away people die. We all need the courage to look around us and see those who are living on the streets. Averting our eyes will not solve the problem. The truth is, if we are willing to look long enough we will know what to do to solve the problem.”


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