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No, Governor McKee, homelessness is not a crime

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

Tyler Jackman

Anchor Staff Writer

Image via MART PRODUCTION/Pexels

As the holiday season approaches, we often lose sight of the things we take for granted. Nothing is more sacred, yet undervalued than the homes in which we live. They provide us our shelter, warmth and safe haven from the difficulties of the outside world.

At the same time, we innately invoke suspicion towards every unhoused person encountered on our travels? Why don’t they have a job? Are they dangerous? Why are they even here? That intrinsic form of discrimination is encountered from the lowest of classes up to the State House, where Gov. McKee ushered in the holidays with an eviction notice gift to the unhoused people around the capitol building.

At a press conference in Pawtucket Thursday, McKee insisted that “we’re not going to penalize people who are homeless right now,” moments after admitting that he couldn’t answer whether the evictions will stay on the evicted Rhode Islander’s records.

McKee insisted that those being evicted from the premises will be connected to emergency shelter beds and warming centers, but called reports on the 80 encampment and 385+ unhoused people “misinformation.”

The Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness (RICEH), however, disputes McKee’s claim. Data collected by the group indicated that there are approximately 82 homeless encampments around the state and an estimated 385 people without a home. These numbers include those who have been in contact with the state to arrange emergency shelter, but not those who haven’t, so the true number of those facing a shelter crisis in Rhode Island is likely notably larger.

Already, alarm bells are being rang on the governor’s surprise order. The ACLU has threatened to file suit in a letter aiming to stop the evictions, alleging that the order violates policies concerning the Coordinated Entry System, which ensures fair access to shelter for unhoused people. They also allege that data shows how there are, in fact, not enough emergency beds to shelter both those in the State House encampment and those on the existing waitlist for shelter.

It is imperative that those who are without shelter receive the help they need, and the governor’s eviction order is short-sighted and will do more harm than good if the evictions go through. Recorded evictions have a significant impact on credit reports, which in turn can make it even more difficult to find housing that will accept you, further entrapping those stuck in a cycle of poverty.

The question is also begged that if the emergency shelter is in fact available, why threaten those who are seeking shelter by the State House with arrest? The necessary resources to connect unhoused people to stable living situations are available, so it’s causeless to threaten them with a criminal record to assure compliance. This will make seeking permanent housing even more burdensome, shutting those evicted out of a wide range of potential living situations.

Perhaps the greatest hill to climb after levying these charges and evictions would be the lack of potential living situations already in the state of Rhode Island. As discussed in a previous article for The Anchor, Providence’s solution towards alleviating the sore lack of low-income housing in the state was a healthy dose of corporate welfare, giving record breaking tax relief to a property development group in order to build “affordable” housing in the abandoned Superman building. These apartments, when completed, will be unnervingly out of reach towards those who need housing on an emergency basis, ranging from $2,071 to $5,287 per month in rent.

The governor is not committing the most grievous of sins, as the administration is still moving to connect those living in encampments to temporary housing and emergency warming centers. What the governor is, in fact, is sorely misguided on the realities of homelessness in the state. As nonprofit and volunteer groups seek to reach out and assist the homeless population of the state, McKee is criss-crossing between aid and threats, in a manner that can force these people to remain in the system of poverty that brutalizes them.

It is not and never is too late to do more to help the people of most need in our state. But before that is done, the governor and his administration must reach out to groups such as the RICEH, engage in earnest community dialogue and most importantly, realize that luxury apartments and threats of arrest are a betrayal to Rhode Islanders in need of real answers.



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