On January 11 at the State House, there was a special legislative hearing by the Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee, to hear about the needs and to talk about possible solutions to the emergency winter shelter crisis and the growing homeless problem.
The 2010 annual shelter homeless numbers show that in December, that 1408 people used the shelters, the highest in years. 51% of those people are first time users, 39% are families and 23% are children.
The times are hard and are only getting worse. “The solution to homelessness is affordable housing,” said Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH). “We have the programs in place to end homelessness in our state, including model programs such as Housing First, Operation First Step, Road Home and Neighborhood Opportunities Program but we have to fully fund the programs and expand them to meet the growing need.”
Bring to light the need that the state will continue to help fund and bring back full funding to the Neighborhood Opportunities Program (NOP), a program that subsidizes the cost of affordable homes in Rhode Island.
“I truly haven’t been able to sleep for a week knowing the situation Harrington Hall, and what those men have to deal with on a daily basis. It boggles my mind. Guantanamo Bay had better conditions than they had there. There are only two showers, and toilets with no doors.” Senator Tassoni stated.
He also didn’t understand why the men have to go all the way to Providence to get something to eat. He also invited the rest of the Senators, the Governor, and the Mayor, to go to Harrington Hall, so they can see the conditions themselves.
Jean Johnson (Executive Director of the House of Hope) who also testified at the hearing answered the Senators concern by telling him that they are only funded to stay open from 6pm to 7am. They don’t have the funding to stay open any longer than that; bringing to light the dire need of a day center, so people would have a place the stay during the day… but that would cost much more than a shelter would cost.
Senator Tassoni mentioned that the old training school would be an ideal place for the men of Harrington Hall to live. They would have their own space, a kitchen and dining area, more bathrooms (with doors) and also be provided with mental health and dental programs.
“Why not provide them with individual rooms that are private, better showers and toilets so that they can live like human being and not like animals?” stated Senator Tassoni.
“This is my number one priority at this point. We have 88 men in a God-forsaken place. So, let’s make this happen.” He said. He asked that Kevin Flynn, of the Stated Division of Planning meet with Governor Chafee’s Director of Administration Richard Licht about the reality of moving Harrington Hall to the old training school.
The hearing was counted to January 20, where the focus was mainly on affordable housing. Showing that the programs that are in place are working, but the major problem is funding and it was clear that the need for funding is greatly needed to keep these programs going and growing.
Nobody knows for sure if or when Harrington Hall will move to the old training school or if there will be more money going into the programs needed to people get off the street, either for a night or forever. It was nice to see that someone was willing to try.
The hearing will be continued in February. Look for updates in the March Issue of Street Sights.