PROVIDENCE — After all she’s been through in the past year and a half — after being evicted despite being current on her rent, after searching in vain for a new home when her family was making $80,000 a year, after being forced to sleep outside with her four children — Holly Barchie has a message for those who assume homelessness is someone else’s problem.
“Oh, it can happen to you,” she said. “It can absolutely happen to anybody.”
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Barchie and Boston Globe reporter Alexa Gagosz spoke about the scope of Rhode Island’s housing crisis, the toll taken on families desperate for a home, and what needs to change.
In December, Gagosz wrote a story headlined: “How a hard-working, middle-class family spiraled into homelessness.” On the podcast, Barchie provides an update, saying she is working two jobs but her family still cannot find a landlord to rent to them, and is still living in a hotel. Every day, she said, she meets other families facing similar predicaments.
“Everything needs to change because children don’t deserve to have to live like this, ever,” Barchie said. “Adults are adults, and if it was just me and my husband, I could figure it out. But my kids don’t deserve to have to come to me crying that they want a house, they want a bedroom. They want to not have to worry about if they have to leave their place every day. No children should ever have to go through this.”
Gagosz explained that Rhode Island does not have a “right to shelter” law like the one that Massachusetts has enacted, guaranteeing shelter for any family with children under the age of 18, even if the state has to pay for a hotel room.
“There’s definitely a housing crisis across the US at this point,” she said. “In other states like Massachusetts, New York, California, there are protections for families that are either low-income or unhoused, especially when they have children. Rhode Island doesn’t have those protections.”
But Gagosz said the Rhode Island General Assembly is now considering legislation aimed at addressing the housing crisis in a variety of ways. For example, she noted that Barchie’s family ended up spending more than $5,000 on fees that landlords charge to apply for an apartment, and legislators have introduced bills that would prohibit landlords from charging rental application fees to prospective tenants.
Gagosz said the story of Barchie’s family has resonated in the State House and among housing advocates. “They are definitely being talked about when it comes to new legislation that they say needs to be passed to become law to protect families like Holly’s,” she said. “When will we actually start seeing that change? I’m not sure yet.”
To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.