Once again on February 8th, advocates gathered at the State House for Senator Tassoni’s third hearing on homelessness.
There have been some changes since the last hearing. For one, Governor Chafee said that he would help the state’s homeless by improving Harrington Hall. Chaffee has also reviving the Interagency Council on homelessness. The Council was designed to start in 2009 but nothing came of it.
The Council was to help state officials and directors to work together to help end homelessness.
Also there were workers who were working on fixing the bathrooms at Harrington Hall.
Kevin Flynn, Director of the State Division of Planning, said that the administration might start to serve breakfast for men at the shelter.
Senator Tassoni, the chairman of the hearing, stated, “I don’t think anyone would believe the Governor could work that fast.”
Even with these small steps there is still so much to do. Nellie Gorbea, the Executive Director of Housing Works RI and one of the panelists, explained that the recent US Census Bureau shows that 42% of Rhode Islanders spend more than 30% of their income on rent, making Rhode Islanders struggle to pay their rent and bills.
“This is not sustainable for families, so it is not surprising that RI is seeing such a high rate of first-time homeless,” Gorbea said.
She also stated that RI is one of nine states that don’t put funds aside for affordable housing.
Nellie mentioned the many different programs that other states have in place which have been working well, such as the Housing First Program in Massachusetts.
“Seeing their investment in affordable housing has addressed both homelessness and their economy. It’s time for Rhode Island to follow suit.”
On the day of the hearing, there was a buzz in the air within the homeless community, among the out reach workers, homeless individuals and heads of agencies.
“I need as many Tea Party supporters there are for this one. Get there early to fill up the room before the homeless folks! Help me ask why this homeless person has better clothes than I? I need some support when myself and Senator’s Maher and Pinga raise the tough questions to end this dog and pony show of Chairman Tassonni’s.
In shock, many advocates wanted answers to how something like this could have been written and sent out by one of ‘our’ Senators.
Wanting an apology from Senator Kettle, John Joyce, the Executive Director of RIHap (Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Program) and one of the panelists, started off by reading the e-mail, then by saying that he didn’t know that, “There was so much hate and prejudice in people because of their economical circumstance. In this email, if that word homeless was replaced with people of color or someone religion, it would not be tolerated in this building or in today’s society.”
“The Senator claims he wants to ask some tough questions. Well, Senator I have same tough questions to ask you. Why do you have so much hate toward people who are poor? Why would you disrespect them with that email? I’m asking you right now, publicly for Senator Kettle to apologize to the homeless community and the state of Rhode Island for your disrespectful remarks.”
In response Senator Kettle said, “Ok that email was written in anger and frustration of how the committee is one sided. I apologize that word shouldn’t have been used.”
“I was pretty shocked when I saw it,” said Jim Ryczek, executive director for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, when asked about the e-mail. “If you substitute any other minority group in that it is pretty offensive.”
Senator John Tassoni, chairman of the committee, said Kettle had learned a lesson that night. “He’s 20 years old. Lives with mom and dad. He doesn’t really know the definition of paying a mortgage or paying bills,” said Tassoni, D-Smithfield, and North Smithfield. “It’s unfortunate. He’s young. He’s a kid. Did I think he learned a lesson today? I think he absolutely did.”
Just a side note: Under the guidelines of HUD you are homeless if you’re 18 or older and do not have enough funds for your own house or an apartment with nowhere else to go and you stay with others, you are doubling up, you are homeless.