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RI Homeless Rate Declines, Earns “B” Grade in Prevention

Thursday, February 19, 2015


New data released this week by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless shows that the state’s homeless population has decreased for a second year in a row. 

“The numbers are down but we are far from done,” said Jim Ryczek, the Executive Director of RICH. “We know from the past that now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal in our efforts to end homelessness,” he said, referring to the mid-2000s when Rhode Island cut services to the homeless just before the economic recession hit. “State leaders are looking for cost-savings in the budget, so it is important to understand that housing Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness costs less than relying on shelters that weren’t made for the purpose of housing people. The best way to spend less money on homelessness is to end it.” 

Dr. Eric Hirsch, Professor at Providence College and Chair of the state’s Homeless Management Information System Committee, released the 2014 Annual Statistics showing an 8.5% decrease in the total numbers of homeless Rhode Islanders from 4,447 in 2013 to 4,067 in 2014. This marks the second year Rhode Island saw a decline in its homeless population – 2012 had the highest amount of homelessness in the state, with 4,868.

By The Numbers

The Annual Statistics saw decreases including:

-8.5% decrease in the overall number of homeless from 4,447 in 2013 to 4,067 in 2014
-15.2% decrease in homeless families from 631 in 2013 to 535 in 2014
-11.7% decrease in homeless children from 1,117 in 2013 to 986 in 2014

Dr. Hirsch stated that Rhode Island should take advantage of the reduced number of homeless by investing in housing the homeless. “Shelters are only band-aids,” he says, “When we move people into housing, we see much better outcomes, much more success, and all for much less. People report they don’t get sick as often, they don't get hurt as much; so they don't use ambulances or go to ERs as much either. They have a safe place to keep their stuff for the day, so they're less stressed. All the little things we take for granted in having a home turn out to make a big difference in terms of health and fiscal impact on the State.”

Rhode Island Earns A "B" Grade In Prevention

In addition, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless released its second Report Card. RICH gives Rhode Island an overall grade of B, showing an improvement from last year’s C+. 

“This is a real improvement,” said Ryczek, “We but we feel that Rhode Island is a state which must continue to work toward an A+ grade.”

Advocates say ttherre is still more work to be done. “At United Way, we hear from Rhode Islanders daily through 2-1-1, our 24-hour information and referral line,” said Anthony Maione, President and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island. “In 2014, we received 110,240 requests for housing and shelter-related needs, up 8% from 2013. We’ve made progress but there is still more to be done, by investing in permanent supportive housing and wrap-around services we can end chronic homelessness in Rhode Island.”

Photo: Franco Folini/Flickr


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Raimondo Has to Answer as Governor

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Moving the needle?

Forbes recently ranked Rhode Island 5th worst in the country for business environment -- a not uncommon position for the Ocean State in recent years.  Forbes placed RI as high as 20th for quality of life -- but #49 for "regulatory environment."

How soon can Governor-elect Raimondo improve Rhode Island's basement-level assessment and make it more competitive -- and what will she have to do to make that happen?  Addressing the sales tax? Estate tax?  Look to Raimondo's State of the State address -- and first budget proposal -- for signs as to how the direction the new Governor plans on taking the state.  

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Gambling hole?

As GoLocal's Stephen Beale pointed out, RI has no plan to deal with $307,000,000 shortfall, when casinos in MA are operational, and RI's third largest source of revenue -- gaming and the Division of Lottery -- will take a huge hit.  "A consultant's report showed Rhode Island losing $108.8 million a year in casino gaming revenue by 2017. And that was a best case scenario. The worst case had the state bleeding $158.4 million by 2017," wrote Beale.

How will Governor-elect Raimondo deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room?  Newport Grand failed in its bid for table games on the ballot in November.  Will Raimondo let the General Assembly continue to prop up the ailing slots parlor?

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RhodeMap RI?

The previously little-known economic development plan under the State's Division of Planning -- made possible by a federal HUD grant -- has heated up in a big way as opponents are voicing their concerns as to the scope and reach of the plan, if incorporated into the state's broader economic plan.  

Will Governor-elect Raimondo get behind RhodeMap RI's vision fully, and how would she address detractors who don't appear to be going away at any point soon?  Given that there will most likely need to be legislative components to implement the plan, watch to see where Raimondo's leadership is on this issue. 

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Marijuana legalization?

Some of the air came out of the marijuana legalization balloon when former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox stepped down last year, and the notably more conservative Speaker Nicholas Mattiello took the helm, making the prospect of a marijuana legalization bill appear dim, at best.  

The Daily Chronic reported that the Democratic gubernatorial candidates indicated during the campaign that they were "monitoring the effects of regulation and taxation in Colorado and Washington."  Raimondo's certainly given no indication she'd be inclined to consider a tax-and-legalize measure, but as gaming revenues start to taper off, will marijuana discussion ramp up as a new revenue option?  

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Union relations?

While Raimondo appointed five transition team members with big banking ties, she also appointed two union heads -- Pat Quinn with SEIU 1199 and Michael Sabitoni with the RI Building and Construction Trades Council.  

While Raimondo managed to secure union endorsements following a primary that saw them go primarily to opponents Angel Taveras and Clay Pell, the legacy of her pension reform still looms large (remember AFSCME famously hired Forbes' Edward Siedle to investigate Raimondo's handling of the state pension fund, namely her move into hedge funds).  How will Raimondo negotiate with public sector unions given a past history? 

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Pension Lawsuit?

What will come of the pension reform lawsuit?  While it was quiet leading up to the election following the failed settlement earlier in the year, watch to see the next steps from Raimondo -- and newly elected Treasurer Seth Magaziner (who appointed a fairly union-friendly transition team) to see what attempts may arise to reach a new settlement -- and what implications that may mean for Raimondo, the architect of the landmark 2011 pension overhaul. Depending on the outcome, watch to see how Raimondo's political star rises -- or falls -- from the outcome of the suit -- and how Raimondo addresses the financial implications if a mediated settlement is achieved.  

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Budget proposal?

All eyes will be on Raimondo's first budget proposal in January.  What will her priorities be?  Will there be bold moves to improve the state's business climate? Education, infrastructure, tax code -- how will Raimondo choose to tackle the state's biggest issues?  And will the Democratic leadership agree with her agenda?

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General Assembly?

For the first time since 1991 -- when Governor Bruce Sundlun took office -- a Democrat will be embarking on a gubernatorial administration, and Raimondo will be working with a Democratic legislature.  What will Raimondo's working relationship be with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva-Weed?  Will the General Assembly be in lockstep with a Raimondo agenda -- if not, what will the points of contention be?  And with a democratic lock on power, what will the Republicans be able to accomplish?  

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Mandate issue?

Winning the general election to become Rhode Island's first female Governor with 40% of the vote, Raimondo follows in the footsteps of Governor Lincoln Chafee with winning with less that 50% of the vote.  Raimondo however has the advantage over her predecessor by being elected as a Democrat, allowing her to work with leadership in the General Assembly.  However, with 40% of the vote, how will the public who didn't vote for her view here policies and proposals?  Will Raimondo have to win over the public, or will Raimondo take her support from the business community and forge a path regardless?

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While General Treasurer, Raimondo came under fire for lack of transparency for the lack of disclosure of hedge fund fees paid for the state's retirement investments, punctuated by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin ruling that Raimondo could keep certain details of the state's investments from the press.   Forbes' Edward Siedle wrote, Does [Kilmartin] seriously believe that hedge and private equity billionaires entrusted with state workers retirement savings should be shielded from scrutiny regarding potential violations of law?
While Raimondo will no longer be calling the shots as the head of the State Investment Commission, all eyes will be her decisions in the Governor's office.  How transparent with the Raimondo administration be with the press-- and the public?


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