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Protesters call for McKee to do more for homeless people

The governor just joined housing officials in launching a ‘landlord challenge,’ but advocates say it’s not nearly enough to meet the need as funding expires for winter shelters

Protesters gathered outside Rhode Island Governor Daniel J. McKee's office on Thursday to demand more help for homeless people who are being forced to leave winter shelter and hotel beds.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Luz Arroyo choked back tears as she stood outside Governor Daniel J. McKee’s office on Thursday, talking about how she was evicted from her apartment in Pawtucket after her husband died and now sleeps in a car. “I don’t have anywhere to go,” she said.

She called for state government to “help not only me but other people that are homeless,” saying, “I know how these people are suffering out here, just like I am suffering.”

Arroyo was one of about 25 protesters who came to State House on Thursday, demanding that McKee do more to help homeless people who are being forced to leave winter shelters and hotel beds.


Eric Hirsch, a Providence College sociology professor who has been advocating for homeless Rhode Islanders since 1990, gave McKee credit for providing winter shelter beds, but said that money will soon run out. “The governor seems to think it’s a winter problem, but it’s an annual year-round problem,” he said. “If it gets really hot, that is life threatening, too. This is still an urgent crisis, and we need action now.”

Protesters from the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, and Direct Action for Rights and Equality had also gathered outside McKee’s office on April 26.

On Monday, McKee joined federal and state housing officials and Amos House in launching a statewide “landlord challenge” aimed at providing permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness and staying in hotel shelters since the start of the pandemic.

Landlords will receive a $3,000 bonus for the first unit signed on for a one-year lease and $1,000 for each additional unit. Up to $3,000 per unit is available for reimbursement of necessary repairs. The program, when possible, will provide rent for up to one year.


“The McKee administration continues to prioritize making safe, high-quality housing available for Rhode Islanders in both the short- and long-term,” press secretary Alana O’Hare said in a statement Thursday. “This includes the recently launched Landlord Challenge to accelerate rapid rehousing of individuals and families transitioning from the non-congregate shelter programs.”

McKee’s proposed budget includes a $250 million investment in housing, O’Hare said. His proposal includes $21.5 million to assist those experiencing homelessness or housing instability, $5 million to increase shelter capacity, and $90 million to create and preserve housing units for households that earn up to 80 percent of the area median income, she said.

“The administration has dedicated a record amount of funding toward supports for housing and homelessness assistance this year in order to address the unprecedented housing challenges facing Rhode Island,” she said.

Hirsch said homeless advocates support the “landlord challenge,” but he said it is not nearly enough to meet the need at this moment.

“We don’t need dozens of units, we need hundreds, and in the the short term we need shelter,” he said. “There is no way to house the hundreds of people who need permanent housing in the next few months.”

The state’s Homeless Management Information System reports that 248 people were living outside – “in places not meant for human habitation” – over the two weeks ending April 30, Hirsch said.

That figure is bound to rise as funding expires for 525 hotel and emergency winter shelter beds created during the COVID-19 crisis, he said. Many of those evicted from those beds will have nowhere to go, he said, noting that there are 947 people on waiting lists for individual and family shelter.


“What we are doing here is we are institutionalizing outdoor homelessness,” Hirsch said. “We are saying, ‘There are 400 people outside? That’s just part of the way things work.’ No, it isn’t part of the way things work. We need to get those people with a roof over their heads. And everybody here is going to keep coming back until that happens.”

He said it’s good that the state is budgeting $250 million for housing. But he said it could be two or three years before new housing units are built, and 500 to 600 people could soon be living outside.

“This is against the way Rhode Island should be operating,” Hirsch said. “It’s not Los Angeles. It’s not San Francisco. And we are not going to accept having this many people living outside – including families, with children, in their cars, under bridges, in tents. It’s just not acceptable.”

He urged the McKee administration to start placing people in “temporary, deployable structures” that are cheaper than hotels.

Pallet Shelters, a company based in Everett, Washington, produces tiny prefabricated homes that can be erected in half an hour, Hirsch said. And he noted that House of Hope CDC has a proposed a group of those tiny homes called ECHO (Emergency COVID Housing Opportunities) Village.


“House of Hope has been trying to complete ECHO Village for 18 months, but they’re finding is a lot of NIMBY problems,” Hirsch said. “People say ‘We definitely want to help the homeless,’ but they don’t want it near them.”

He said that if no other sites are available immediately, state government could place the tiny homes at its Pastore Complex in Cranston. “The state owns that property,” he said, “and it’s far superior to living in tents.”

Protesters came to the State House with an oversized “eviction notice” for McKee. “You are indebted to the State of Rhode Island in the sum of: 500 shelter beds, 500 new permanent supportive housing units, the hundreds of millions of ARP dollars that you aren’t spending,” it read.

Kimberly Cabral said, “What I’ve seen downtown is more and more people sleeping in these bus stops.” She said, “It’s very depressing, and it gives you a feeling of hopelessness.” She called for people to come together to provide housing, saying, “You’ve got the funds, get it done!”

Loughlin Neuert, of Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, led protesters in a chant, saying, “Housing is a human right.” They responded, “Not another night outside!”

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