PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Protesters gathered at Providence City Hall Wednesday to demand acceptable shelter for the city’s homeless population and for police to end the so-called “raiding” of encampments resulting in arrests.
The Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and other advocacy groups held signs reading things like “Where are the shelter beds?” and chanted things like “Housing is a human right!”
Dozens of protesters then made their way inside the building and chanted “Stop the raid, start the aid!”
Providence Mayor Brett Smiley rejected protesters’ claims regarding the “raiding” of homeless encampments.
“We’re not raiding anything,” he said during a live interview on 12 News at 4. “That’s really charged language.”
Protesters also raised concerns about officers arresting the homeless. Recently, a man was arrested on Orms Street for trespassing on state property.
Smiley also clarified it is not city policy to arrest people simply for being homeless.
“For months, social services has been working with that individual to offer assistance and try to both offer shelter and other services,” Smiley said. “That person did not take any of that help and was given notice to leave. Then when the time came, he refused to leave and in fact, asked to be arrested at that point.”
Smiley said the city regularly keeps contact with the encampments through social service partners to address safety concerns.
“They’re not a safe place for people to live,” he said. “We have had issues with overdoses and we’ve had fires.”
Eric Hirsch, interim director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, told 12 News he doesn’t feel the city is acting appropriately.
“There’s a long waiting list for shelters, so you don’t offer shelter,” Hirsch said. “The idea that they’re trying to help people be safe is false.”
“We would like to see actual solutions,” he continued.
Hirsch said that could include rapidly deployable shelters to provide beds for 200 individuals in at least three separate shelter villages, in addition to providing wrap-around supportive services as well as electricity, bathrooms, showers and meal sites for residents.
Josh Estrella, a spokesperson for Smiley, told Target 12 that the city has communicated with the organizations raising concerns. He explained efforts had been made to increase shelter space in the city.
“Earlier this summer, the city invested $263,000 to extend the use of current shelter beds and increased our allocation to Amos House,” Estrella said. “This is in addition to the $3.4 million we’ve spent over the last year for shelter beds.”
However, the city is also exploring other shelter options outside of Providence.
“The city has been working with the state to pursue non-city-owned land that may provide for the possibility of pallet or pallet-like housing in Providence after exploring the limited city-owned spaces and will continue to do so,” Estrella said. “We are actively working with the state to determine a timeline and potential locations.”
Estrella said in addition to the $3.6 million the city invested over the last year to extend shelter capacity, the city is also currently working with the state to explore an additional $2 million in ARPA funds for Consolidated Homeless Fund initiatives, which is currently in a request for proposal (RFP) process.