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Advocates search for a solution to R.I. homelessness

December 26, 2012

Christina, who is one of the number of homeless in West Warwick, holds a sign demonstrating the number of homeless in Kent County at Wednesday's event at Harrington Hall in Cranston. Jessica Boisclair. Kent County Daily Times.

CRANSTON — Advocates for homelessness are crying out for help as the numbers of shelters available in Rhode Island begin to dwindle and the number of people living on the streets begins to increase.

Numerous people gathered at Harrington Hall, a shelter for men, Wednesday morning to voice their concerns about the unfortunate crisis that has struck the state.

Executive Director of House of Hope Community Development Corporation (CDC) Jean Johnson explained that Harrington Hall legally shelters 88 men; many of them sleep on mats along the perimeter of a large open room.

Since many winter shelters have closed throughout the state, she said the amount of men seeking shelter at the hall has not dipped below 88 in awhile.

Since the House of Hope took over the building three years ago, she said they have taken in more than 100 men.

“For every bed we empty, it just gets full the night after,” she said. “There’s a problem in this state; there is no place for people to go. This place is full so now we have started to create new winter shelters.”

Every year, she said, the organization asks the state for money so people will not freeze outside during the winter.

She said many people throughout the state hope that Governor Lincoln Chafee will provide funding in his upcoming budget for Opening Doors Rhode Island, the plan to end homelessness.

Eileen Hayes, President and CEO of Amos House, explained that there is a 10-year plan in effect to end homelessness but it will take time to complete this task.

“Most of these shelters are running on bare bones,” she said. “They’re paying staff $10 an hour to stay awake all night long to protect 50 men lying on a floor, we’re barely paying utilities and we’re getting food donated. We’re not asking for a lot of money, we’re asking to keep people alive.”

Dr. Eric Hirsch, Chair of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Committee, explained that as of last week, 996 homeless people were in Rhode Island on one night.

“There were 728 people in shelter beds, 112 sleeping on mats and 156 living outside,” he said. “That is not the total number of people outside," Hirsch added, "those were just the people we could find.”

Compare that to 2011, where the committee found 833 people homeless with only 28 sleeping outside.

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