To everyone in this small state who is working to end homelessness: We can do better than this.
Let’s step out of our back-seat sibling rivalry mentality of blame and ignorance and listen to the needs of our community.
There is wind and snow and freezing rain. People are dying. Tent city, or no tent city, people are sleeping outside.
Individuals in the service provider community can take simple steps which can save lives.
Here is Street Sight’s check list:
Shelters should state their inclement weather policy clearly. The Program Assurances states that “shelters not operating on a 24-hour basis will create and implement a policy for extension of their operating hours during inclement weather.” On January 19, the Urban League’s 208 Prairie Avenue shelter was closed at 7 a.m. despite the snow storm. One gentleman had an asthma attack from walking in the bitter cold soon after leaving the shelter. He walked to Rhode Island Hospital, where the hospital staff was shocked when the gentleman told them that his shelter did not stay open that day. And, not everyone who needs medical care is able to get to the hospitals.
Sometimes shelters will stay open but will not inform their clients. Shelters need to clearly state their policy the day before the anticipated storm, so clients can plan accordingly. Three times in January, members of Homeless People’s Action Committee and Pastor Aida Fernandez were able to open a day sanctuary at Mathewson Street Church, providing warmth from the storm for over 100 people. Providence’s homeless cannot fit in the Crossroads Rhode Island Community Room on a snowy day.
If a new inclusive hypothermia shelter is not put into place, publicize a clear policy for banned clients. Homeless individuals have been waiting for over a month for the Rotating Shelter System to begin service. As of press time for this issue, only Beneficent Church has been opened as an additional shelter site. Rumors are flying as to whether or not individuals’ bans from shelters are lifted. In a January 27 Providence Journal article titled “Cold Comfort in Tents,” Michelle Wilcox, the chief operations officer for Crossroads, said that people often think that they are banned, but in this weather they are not. If it is the case that bad weather overrides earlier bans, we encourage case managers to reach out into the streets, shelters, and soup kitchens, and make sure that people are made aware of this change.
Making these changes is not calling on anyone to create new programs; it is calling for clear communication. We can do this.