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Senator Mendes pitches a tent outside the State House

The East Providence Democrat, who is running for lieutenant governor, and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, joined a group of seven people spending the night outside to call attention to homelessness

Rhode Island state Senator Cynthia Mendes, woke up from her sixth straight night of sleeping in a tent at the Rhode Island Statehouse. She and a small group of people are sleeping in tents to call attention to the increasing number of unsheltered residents in Rhode Island. "It's winter and Rhode Islanders are going to freeze to death if the state doesn't do something, she said on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. "Safe and dignified housing is necessary and not too much to ask for. " When asked how she feels after sleeping in a tent and not going home during the day, but going to friends homes and coffee shops to warm up and get wifi, she says, "My body hurts. I'm tired, but it's nothing compared to what our friends who are unhoused go through. You can't rest. You are vulnerable to the weather, to harassment, to be robbed and to being criminalized by sleeping on the street."Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Happy Wednesday! I’m Ed Fitzpatrick and I would have voted against artificial turf at the Brown University football stadium. Follow me on Twitter @FitzProv or send tips to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com.

Coronavirus updates

Rhode Island has a high level of transmission: 339.9 total new cases per 100K population in the past 7 days

Fully vaccinated: 763,128 (of about 1.1 million residents)

New cases: 733

Test-positive rate: 6.2 percent

Currently hospitalized: 155Total deaths: 2,932

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Leading off

Wearing a wool hat, a scarf and a “Tax the Rich” T-shirt, state Senator Cynthia Mendes pitched a tent outside the State House on Tuesday night, saying she won’t go home until she’s sure the state’s homelessness crisis is resolved.

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Mendes, an East Providence Democrat running for lieutenant governor, and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, joined a group of seven people who planned to stay in tents on the Smith Street side of the State House overnight.

”We are in a crisis, and it’s utterly heartbreaking,” Mendes said. “We are out here because we want to make sure that no one freezes to death this winter.”

Mendes said she has been on the brink of homelessness herself. “I’ve been unhoused,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to have folks who found a place for my daughter and I when we were in between so we could get in a better place.”

Advocates have been sounding the alarm, saying they’ve never seen so many people living outdoors as Rhode Island reels from the pandemic, housing costs skyrocket, and shelter waiting lists swell. Rhode Island Kids Count reports that 574 Rhode Islanders slept outside or in their cars at least one night between Oct. 8 and Nov. 6, and 156 were in households with children.

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State officials have taken steps such as earmarking $5 million for the creation of 275 additional beds for people without homes.

But with temperatures dropping to 30 degrees on Tuesday night, Mendes said far more urgency is needed as hundreds remain without homes. “Time is up,” she said. “This is an urgent crisis.”

Mendes noted Rhode Island has $1.1 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding, and she said potential solutions include using just 1 percent of that money to put people without shelter in hotels this winter.

”There are more people impacted than ever before,” she said. “And we have leadership that is sitting on billions of dollars and sitting on their hands. It’s criminal.”

Mendes said Capitol Police asked the group to leave, saying they could be arrested for putting up tents and sleeping there, and the State Police arrived. “We said we are gathering respectfully and in deep solidarity,” she said. No one was arrested, and she was still there Wednesday morning.

”My jaw hurts from chattering from the cold,” she said. “No one should have to experience this.”

The Globe in Rhode Island

⚓ My colleague Amanda Milkovits reports that Timothy J. Desjardins, the Providence man arrested after a midday armed standoff on Federal Hill two weeks ago, has been charged by the FBI in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol. Read more.

Brian Amaral writes that Rhode Island’s largest state employee union group is voting on a contract that would give them $3,000 bonuses if they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, but Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration is refusing to discuss its details. Read more.

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⚓ My latest: State treasurer Seth Magaziner is disappointed other Democratic candidates for governor aren’t joining him in a “people’s pledge” to limit outside political money, but opponents are calling for him to stop self-funding and raking in corporate cash. Read more.

⚓ The Department of Labor and Training will not use facial recognition technology to process unemployment claims, director Matthew Weldon told the Globe’s Alexa Gagosz following an ACLU lawsuit. Read more.

⚓ New Rhode Island Kids Count data shows that about 28 percent of renters in the Ocean State reported they could not keep up with their rent from Sept. 15 to Oct. 22. Read more.

⚓ In a Globe Rhode Island commentary piece, Magaziner calls for distributing grocery gift cards and suspending the sales tax on toys in December. Read more.

Here’s more Globe Rhode Island coverage.

Also in the Globe

⚓ My colleague Shelley Murphy reports on a tantalizing clue in the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. Read more.

⚓ That’s Mr. Freedom, to you, pal. Newly renamed Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom is stepping up his game as a human rights activist. Read more.

Dan Shaughnessy says the last thing Major League Baseball needs is another work stoppage. Read more.

James Pindell explains why December will be the most important month of the year on Capitol Hill. Read more.

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What’s on tap today

E-mail events to us at RInews@globe.com.

Birthdays: Rhode Map readers, if you want a friend or family member to be recognized on Friday, send me an e-mail with their first and last name, and their age.

⚓ At 9:30 a.m., Governor Daniel J. McKee, Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Education Department deputy commissioner Ana Riley, and Lincoln Schools Superintendent Larry Filippelli will take part in a COVID-19 briefing at the Northern Lincoln Elementary School.

AIDS Project Rhode Island (a division of Family Service of RI) will be on the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., tying red scarves to raise awareness and combat stigma on World AIDS Day.

⚓ At 3:30 p.m., the special legislative commission to study and make recommendations for encouraging more persons of color to enter education fields will meet in State House Room 101. The commission is chaired by Representative Karen Alzate.

Dan’s previous column

Dan McGowan asked the six Democratic candidates for governor to offer some advice to President Joe Biden. They mostly talked about themselves. If you missed the column, you can read it here. And all of Dan’s columns are on our Rhode Island Commentary page.

Rhode Island Report podcast

Ed Fitzpatrick talks to Lorén Spears from the Tomaquag Museum about what Thanksgiving represents for Indigenous people. Listen to all of our podcasts here.

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Thanks for reading. Send comments and suggestions to Edward.Fitzpatrick@Globe.com, or follow me on Twitter @FitzProv. See you on Thursday.

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Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.