PROVIDENCE — The city cleared a homeless encampment on Friday morning, in response to complaints from local businesses that led to complaints from service providers.
City Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré said city police and public works crews were on site Friday morning at the encampment, which was empty at the time. It had about eight to 10 tents between a sidewalk and the Moshassuck River by Charles and Randall streets.
The city received complaints about people from the encampment going into local businesses and causing issues, Paré said. The site was covered with debris, including syringes, he said.
“It was unsafe and dangerous for people that were living in those tents to continue to do so in this climate,” Paré said.
City workers on Friday morning threw away debris and trash, but took tents and other personal belongings and put them in storage, Paré said. While the city was there, some people came back and took their own belongings away. Paré said the city had given the people there a verbal notice that they needed to leave. The area is public property, Paré said.
Pare said the city was working with local service agencies to help the people who were staying there. Everyone there was offered a place to get out from the frigid temperatures, Paré said.
Though encampments are not unheard of in Providence and Rhode Island in general, this is the second one to gain more widespread attention. The city cleared a West End encampment in October after months of controversy about what to do about neighborhood complaints. Providers of services for homeless people say encampments are growing in Rhode Island as homelessness explodes.
The removal of one on Friday morning drew concern from some local elected officials, including state Senator Tiara Mack, who said it was unclear where the people who were staying — and receiving services — at the site were going to go next.
Just found out from a constituent that a little over an hour ago a homeless encampment in my district was dismantled by police (PPD?) and their things put into a trash compactor. pic.twitter.com/x6R4n2cSLP— Tiara Mack (@MackDistrict6) January 21, 2022
It also sparked criticism from providers of homeless services, who have long argued that clearing encampments doesn’t solve any issues, but just disperses them.
“All it accomplishes from our point of view as a homeless service provider is a breach of trust in our ability to adequately engage with people,” said Laura Jaworski, the executive director of service provider House of Hope CDC. “It disrupts the work we’re trying to do.”
Jaworski said Governor Dan McKee has made housing a priority, with $250 million in proposed funding for housing and homeless services.
“But the question is, what are we going to do until we actually realize those units?” Jaworski said. “What is going to be the solution?
Jaworski also said while it may be true that nobody was at the site when city workers arrived, people did sleep overnight there Thursday into Friday.
“At the end of the day, we are honoring businesses’ wishes and not necessarily human dignity,” Jaworski said. “That, to me, is offensive – placing a value on that and not on human beings.”
Brian Amaral can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.