PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A court issued a temporary restraining order Friday halting the removal of homeless individuals from State House property.
Associate Justice R. David Cruise also ordered that no additional tents could be set up outside the State House. The hearing comes after defense attorney Rick Corley filed a temporary injunction Thursday night.
Corley argued the state did not keep the promises they made to homeless individuals, with a lack of beds available at shelters and a delay opening the 24-hour warming station at the Cranston Street Armory.
“As far as I am concerned, they are all Rhode Islanders,” Corley said Thursday. “You own this property. I own this property. The governor is the temporary person who is sitting in the office, it is not his property. It is Rhode Islanders’ property.”
On Friday, Corley said he was pleased with the restraining order being issued.
“They have raised public awareness just by having this hearing, which is one of their goals,” Corley said. “I’m happy to say that the restraining order will continue until next week, and after that, whether we have to have a contested hearing remains to be seen.”
Rhode Islanders gathered at the State House Friday morning to protest Gov. Dan McKee’s decision to ban camping and overnight sleeping on the premises. McKee’s staff handed out notices on Wednesday telling the individuals to leave by 9 a.m. Friday.
Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for McKee’s office, said in a statement that 17 adults were on the premises Wednesday morning and fewer than 10 remained as of Friday.
“For anyone who’s camped here at the State House that wants to go into a warm shelter has an opportunity to do that, and we’re going to continue to make that possible,” Sheaff added.
Sheaff previously told 12 News those who stay would be criminally charged with trespassing.
At a hearing on the restraining order Friday morning, Bart Totten argued on behalf of the state, saying said the state opposed the order, alleging the situation on the grounds has become a safety issue.
Totten said the situation has become dangerous for people entering and exiting the State House, as camps are blocking entrances to the building. Totten added that hypodermic needles have been observed on the premises, and said state policy bans camping and overnight sleeping.
When asked why the administration decided to move individuals before the planned Cranston Street Armory was up and running, Sheaff said it’s because there are other beds available.
“Any bed that is available that goes unused it is not acceptable,” Sheaff said. “And so we want to use any beds that are available to get folks who are priority into them, and folks living on the street are category one and priority from the list.”
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Homeless individuals at the State House were offered a bed, transportation, and storage for their belongings, according to the governor’s office.
The Emmanuel House was made available as shelter, per the McKee administration, but the organization only houses men. Couples and LGBTQ+ individuals were taken to shelters that cater to them, and no children were observed at the camp, Sheaff said.
As of Thursday, no vendors had submitted proposals to run the Cranston Street Armory warming station. The deadline for proposal submissions was extended through Dec. 15, according to the Housing Secretary’s office.
McKee told 12 News on Thursday they are working with providers to establish more than 350 new shelter beds.
“We’re going to continue to expand the number until we have more shelter than we need so that we actually can get to the work in terms of housing,” McKee said.
Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, told 12 News the organization is stretched thin, as need for shelter grows in the state.
“We have approximately 875 beds in our system and last night, I had six openings,” Frumerie said. “We have over 500 people living outdoors, these are just some of the individuals. There’s just not enough beds.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island sent a letter to McKee Thursday alleging the measures used to remove individuals from the camp are “inappropriate” and “without legal basis.”
As of Friday evening, an ACLU of RI spokesperson told 12 News they had not received a response to the letter.