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Homeless in RI: “No path to get help just crushes people” – Rev. Duane Clinker

A personal statement from Rev. Duane Clinker, Mathewson Street Church, Providence on the homelessness issue in Rhode Island:

The Governor continues to announce incremental improvements in emergency shelter beds in ways which are becoming a kind of torture for the unhoused outside.  

People are desperate for shelter and for some hope of shelter.  But the Governor so far doesn’t really release specifics.   When will the warming centers actually open?  Who will get the 50 beds at the Armory and when?  How can we apply?  It goes on and on.   

Last Sunday an older woman in worship at our church just broke down in public.  She had just been walking the streets all night as the best way to stay alive and as warm as possible.  Sunday morning our doors open at 7 and she was now finally able to get a breakfast and sit down in safety.   But she was stunned and crushed.  She began speaking. And our worship started as her testimony and story just started tumbling out in community.  “I just can’t take any more of this.  I just want to die!” she cried.   Worship and community prayer and others who spoke of their own tragedy and hope, helped, but the housing conditions haven’t yet been changed.  

This way of handling the problem, a kind of drip of insufficient numbers and no path to actually get help now just crushes people.  But these are real people.  The Governor in fact, (during his election campaign), made a specific promise that all who needed it would have emergency shelter by Thanksgiving.  But he didn’t keep that promise. 

Now, instead, he gives vague timelines and promises of limited and insufficient numbers of beds without details.  The governor seems to think he is doing something because he is doing more than some before him.  But he is not facing the problem of five years ago . . . but the human emergency is NOW.  And it’s insufficient.

The unhoused are not helpless. But are beginning to organize their own voices. The governor needs to understand this and listen.  They are real people with real minds and personalities and talents and gifts, too.  They don’t want to fight the governor.  We don’t want to embarrass the governor.  We want dialogue and demand justice from the governor.  Most unhoused folks would want to work with the governor and help to educate the governor. They, and we at our church, want to be part of the solution.

Some of our friends have been burned out of homes.  Some have been simply priced out of homes.  Some have become disabled.  Some struggle with other conditions.  This is an emergency for the State of Rhode Island that is getting worse.  But the governor refuses to discuss this directly with the people. Or to even answer their letters. Let alone engage them in policy discussions.  He does not treat them as constituents but as a problem to be managed by “experts”.

The numbers are increasing – the issue isn’t stagnant.

More people become unhoused each week. We don’t talk about that. But the Governor talks in terms of a few hundred or sometimes  “350 on the street”,  or says, “we’re trying to get the exact number.”  But there is no exact number because the number is growing.  That is the nature of a crisis in our state, of a public emergency, of a collapse of the ability of so many to rent affordable housing that is exactly the kind of human disaster that our leaders must address if we are to have a stable society. 

The Governor speaks of his “housing experts” but so far refuses to listen to the unhoused, themselves, who are the real experts with respect to their conditions and needs.

And, very importantly, he refuses to answer the immediate and simple question being asked by the housed, “Why leave people in peril and danger on the street when hotel rooms are possible?”  

The Governor so far is expertly blocking this question in the standard political way and tactic.  He doesn’t answer the question asked or the demand raised.  He answers a question that wasn’t asked and diverts attention from providing emergency shelter in the only places it is immediately accessible (hotels), by making announcements of insufficient amounts of new shelter beds which are coming soon – without specific dates or any way in which to apply.  

It is an extremely simple question which remains unanswered in this public disaster: “Why no emergency shelter in hotels?”

I believe there is a story in that unanswered question.  

Rev. Duane Clinker, Mathewson St. Church  

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  1. William avery on December 7, 2022 at 12:59 am

    Hi I’m a 61 year old man with no place to call home and have to stay in a friend’s car in the winter and snow and cold with no one to help with anything