PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As homeless encampments continue to pop up around the state, more than three dozen people were ordered removed from a site in Providence on Monday.
The encampment was set up on a plot of private property on Charles Street. Officials said 40 to 50 people were living in the woods there, and police gave them a notice Friday to vacate within 48 hours.
Homeless advocate Eric Hirsch, who was there helping people move out, didn’t mince words when speaking to 12 News, voicing his disdain for the decision to clear the site.
“I don’t think the city cares about people who are experiencing homelessness,” he said. “Many people here have been living here for four to five years.”
Hirsch, the interim director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, said he and other advocacy groups have been searching for solutions for months, knowing that the camp was on private property and the city had plans to remove it. His group has been in contact with Mayor Brett Smiley.
“He said he was interested in this solution and would find sites,” Hirsch said. “He found nothing.”
“For several months, we have expressed our concern for the individuals living at this encampment, dangerously close to the highway,” Smiley’s office said in a statement released Monday.
“We’ve partnered with the state and local providers to provide medical care, medical supplies, harm reduction services, behavioral health supports, and housing opportunities to those at this encampment site,” the statement continued.
Rhode Island Housing also released a statement saying it “continues to focus on expanding housing and shelter for people experiencing homelessness, which will help prevent encampments going forward.”
Juan Espinoza of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness called for more to be done, saying there are roughly 400 people across the state who are unsheltered.
“The tents that you see here are people’s homes,” Espinoza said. “They have no place to go in this state. There’s not enough housing units to support people that are currently unsheltered.”
“What we need now are short-term solutions that don’t involve raiding peoples encampments, destroying people’s property,” he added. “This is not just these municipalities’ problems … It’s in everybody’s backyards right now.”
“Tell your elected officials to do something,” Hirsch said. “Don’t just clear encampments and act like people are trash.”