By Joshua-Michael Corrente
The number of homeless Rhode Islanders has increased over the last four months. This is unusual and alarming because in past years, the numbers of people requiring services from emergency shelters always decreased during the summer months.
“Rhode island is experiencing the highest numbers of homeless men, women and children in our history. Our shelters are more often than not overcrowded and the current affordable housing options in our state are woefully inadequate to meet the need,” said Jim Ryczek, executive Director of the RI Coalition for the Homeless.
According to the winter Point in Time data recently released by Rhode Island Housing, a total of 920 families comprising of 1282 persons were homeless in Rhode Island on January 27th. A comparison of the most recent data available from the Homeless Management Information System (a database registry where the number homeless seeking services are submitted from around the state) 990 families totaling 1331 persons were homeless in Rhode Island by the end of April.
Homeless shelters are filled beyond capacity. A Crossroads executive has recently acknowledged that their main facility has people sleeping in every possible place; in foyers, in the computer rooms, anywhere they can possible put a sleeping mat. Crossroads continues to receive over a dozen phone calls a day from single men, women and families with children, seeking information on the availability of shelter space or subsidized housing.
Harrington Hall, a men’s shelter run by House of Hope Community Development Corporation, located in the state offices complex in Cranston, has a capacity of about 88 beds, is reporting sheltering anywhere from 86 to 91 men per night. The Urban League Shelter in Providence, which sleeps approximately 60 men and the Providence Rescue Mission, which shelters both men and women and has a capacity of about 80 beds, have reported serious overcrowding.
Adding to the dilemma is that people in need inhabit the shelter system for longer periods than in previous years. The average stays in an emergency shelter, before being able to find affordable housing has increased as much as 15% over previous years, from eight months to as long as two years.
When new emergency shelter constituents are asked why they need a shelter, they reported a host of causes: loss of homes from foreclosure; were renters forced from units that were recently foreclosed; had doubled up with others during the winter and are moving out; sickness and lack of health insurance; rising costs of housing and no affordable alternatives; job losses and unemployment.
If the shelters are overcrowded during the warmer months, what is the prognosis for shelter overcrowding during the coming winter? The Emergency Shelter task Force meets on July 8th to discuss the unprecedented winter-style crisis in the first weeks of summer.