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Homeless in RI: Winging the data. Who got shelter after encampments removed? All, some, none…

On Monday, RINewsToday published a regular monthly update on the homelessness situation in Rhode Island: Homeless in RI: Street Sights news by, for homeless, pallets, Diocese walks hand-in-hand. In that report we provided information on the homeless encampments that were notified by the city of Providence that they had to leave, and what happened to them.

Since that dis-encampment, various reports have come out about what happened to the individuals in the sites that were engaged with by the city. The numbers seem fluid, not fact. All. None. Half. A few. We attempted to lock down just what the facts are – what is the data? We found no one really knows because no one is tracking it. But everyone, from the state, to the city, to the advocates seems to think they know.

First, our report this week:

“”With opposition in the background, the City of Providence received complaints about at least 3 encampments and city authorities served those living there that they had to leave. They were granted at least one extension, and on the final day any items left in the encampments were gathered and removed by city workers. At least one encampment moved further down the street to a church parking lot, welcomed by church management. But it wasn’t until Mayor Smiley did an interview with the media that we knew what the immediate impact was of the move.

Smiley indicated that no new encampments were formed, to his knowledge, and that most of the people left had found temporary shelter housing – and wraparound services – with Emmanuel House and programs run by the Diocese of Providence.

While the movement out of encampments is never easy, if the result is a new opportunity toward permanent solutions, then those solutions also need attention – for in them, there is hope. Mayor Smiley speaks to the encampments at approx. 22:45 where he updates the situation saying “found space for many of the residents that had been on Houghton Street and in a proper shelter with services” – “not aware of any problematic encampments in the city”.

Mayor Smiley on WPRO Radio with Gene Valicenti:

Emmanuel House (Diocese of Providence)

Emmanuel House has expanded its emergency shelter services (begun by Bishop Tobin in a former Diocesan day care center) over the last few years. Also, in December of 2023, they now offer emergency shelter for appprox. 32 women, on the second floor, as well as the expanded shelter on the first floor. Through the Catholic Charity Appeal, the Diocese covers the costs of insurance, maintenance, heating, electric and other utilities for Emmanuel House.

In addition to shelter residence, Emmanuel House lists their “wrap-around” services. They offer 9am to 3pm, by appointment opportunities to provide social service assistance.

  • SNAP (Food Stamps) Applications
  • Shower Facilities & Hygiene Products
  • Access to Clothing Room
  • ID Vouchers
  • Obtaining Health Insurance
  • Mental Health Referrals & Recovery Support
  • Employment Search & Resumes
  • Apartment Hunting & Applications
  • Referrals to Diocese’s Immigration Office
  • Case Management Services & After Care
  • Ability to take part in Community Garden

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On June 11th, Steve Ahlquist published a report from a Homeless march on Providence City Hall and the RI State House:

In Unhoused people and advocates march to Providence City Hall and State House Ahlquist notes that Erich Hirsch, interim director of the RI Homeless Advocacy Project said to Mayor Smiley’s assistant, upon hearing he was not in the building: “The Mayor has been blatantly lying. Please tell him this. We know he’s been lying because he’s saying that when raids happen and people are evicted from encampments they are [getting] shelter beds and given housing. They’re not. That’s a lie. They are scattered to smaller encampments where they’re less safe.” Continuing, Hirsch said, ““So at least tell him [that] we want him to stop lying about what’s happening to people and tell him to be honest – that he cares more about the neighbors complaining about people in encampments than about the people in the encampments. He thinks that’s what will get him votes but we are committed to making sure that he’s going to lose votes.”

When the group arrived at the RI State House, Ahlquist noted that “At the State House, Capitol and State Police erected barriers and stationed officers to prevent the crowd from gathering outside his office.” Hirsch spoke in the building, noting “Now we’re up to over 600 people living outside. The point-in-time count that we did at the end of January, counted over 500 people, which is the most we’ve ever had, by far. If you want percentages, you’re looking at a 600+ percent increase since 2019. [when outside living was approximately 50].

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No response from RI Housing

RINewsToday went to Stefan Pryor’s communications person, Patti Doyle, to ask about numbers. She said she would look into it – she later inquired if we were asking Mayor Smiley’s office as to where they got their information. We acknowledged that we had and at publication time there has been no response from Pryor’s office.

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Mayor Smiley’s office clarifies data on shelter offered to encamped people:

Josh Estrella, in the Mayor’s office responded to us on our data request that had resulted in the Mayor’s original comments that individuals were mostly provided shelter and services. His statement:

“Data requests should be referred to the State’s Homeless Management Information System Lead; the City does not maintain or have access to client-level data.

All encampment residents had vacated to other locations by the time of the issuance of any Notice to Vacate. As the Mayor has outlined, it is part of the city’s process to ensure that folks have access to open shelter beds or alternative housing options. 

Emmanuel House offered placements for all fourteen individuals who relocated to the Burton Street (St. Edwards) location but we were informed that only about half ultimately accepted those placements. This was data provided by the shelter operator and by the Department of Housing.”

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Response from Eric Hirsch, interim director, Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP)

“Our outreach workers say it was 2 to 3 who went to Emmanuel House. The other dozen-plus scattered to hidden encampments. He’s exaggerating the extent of supportive services people get at large congregate shelters. He’s responding to neighbors who want the encampments cleared and is not trying to meet the needs of the residents if the encampments.” 

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RINewsToday reached out to a Diocese of Providence (runs Emmanuel House), but has not heard back.

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Editor’s Note: Maintaining the data is important in a time when people can often say what they want without anything to back it up. We attempted to confirm statements, but on this inquiry it’s somewhere between “the majority” – “half” – and “2 or 3”. Unless we keep accurate data, we really have no idea what to accurately say. However, kudos to Emmanuel House for being there, for opening the doors, for expanding their space, and for offering to care for as many as possible.

This is a developing story.

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