By William Harter
Who and where are the homeless? What do they do? What is being done for them? What do they look like? These are some of the questions brought up recently at a workshop.
The West Warwick Senior Center at 145 Washington St. in West Warwick held an information seminar to inform the community about homelessness in R.I. on January 19th. There were four guest speakers. A question and answer period followed. The meeting lasted about two hours. About 35 people attended.
Kyle Macdonald gave us an update on the situation in R.I., including challenges and services to the homeless.
She is the Vice President of adult services at Crossroads, overseeing emergency and crisis intervention services, outreach, case management, emergency and program shelters and transitional and permanent housing.
She states R.I. is second only to Nevada having the highest percent of homeless in the state. Families are the second fastest growing homeless group in R.I. Poverty is first.
The number of people requesting help doubled in 2010 over 2009. 35% applied for help for the first time last year. “‘Couch surfers’ are not considered homeless for the records,” she said. Couch surfers are those that sleep on a friend’s or relative’s couch, moving from house to house.
She says Crossroads is “servicing people—anything needed from gloves to showers.” Emergency shelter is their first service. The staff is overwhelmed. “There are many challenges. We can not respond to many—not enough help.”
Constance Vergowven discussed breaking stereotypes. She is the administrative assistant at R.I. Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) and coordinators legal clinics.
She was homeless and gave her history from a teenager in the Midwest. She talked about stereotyping the homeless and its affects in her life. Only 10-20% of the homeless fit the stereotype given by the media. The other 80-90% are often working people who have no place to call home.
Russell Partridge is Westerly’s W.A.R.M. program director. He previously was affiliated with Kent County Mental Health. The 19 bed shelter deals with “families in crisis”. He asks, “Who are the homeless? They are your neighbors.” “People who lose their IDs, Social Security Cards and/or Photo IDs can not apply for homes or employment” without those records.
He claims “it is cheaper to put people in affordable housing than in emergency shelters.” A Providence College professor did the research on that statement. 1/3 of the funds to run Westerly’s shelter are donated by churches and other groups.
Manny Murray is the president and CEO of West Warwick’s Senior Center and Director of Human Services, West Warwick. They run a soup kitchen Tuesday evenings at the center. He said there are 30,000 people in West Warwick. 2714 were seen for services in 2010, which is 9% of their population.
There were over 8,000 total visits last year. Of the 30,000 people, 11.2% are within the poverty level. They have one of the highest child poverty rate in the state—18%, or over one in six people.
Supportive housing and affordable housing were discussed. Each city and town is required to have a plan for affordable housing and have 10% available in each location. But the areas have excuses—no funds, no area, neighborhood objections, etc.
Newport became a showcase recently. Japan sent delegates to view Newport’s methods and made a documentary film of it.
Each year, over 7,000 people enter the shelter system here is R.I. But many are not counted because of fear or shame to admit homelessness or they “crash” with family or friends.
You could be denied assistance because you cannot give an agency a permanent address!
Apparently, the panel did a good job of presenting their material, because at the conclusion a lady in the audience, Elizabeth Iannelli, asked if she could offer a prayer for the homeless! It was granted.
The meeting was sponsored by the West Warwick Senior Community Center, Grace Family Church (a neighbor of the center on Washington St.) and Cozzi Video Productions in Coventry. Street Sights on page 3 of the November 2009 issue presented an article on a film Cozzi Video made on homelessness called “The Hidden Face of Homelessness.”
Interested people can contact Rev. Cozzi at 401-793-0986 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.