Advocates for homeless demand more investment as Rhode Island leaders tout progress

Organizations are calling for more to be done to help Rhode Island’s homeless population as state and federal leaders celebrated their investments in affordable housing.

Advocates for the homeless are calling on Gov. Dan McKee to declare a state of emergency for homelessness in Rhode Island, but McKee says he is already making big investments to address the issue.

“We have over 400 people living outside as winter is approaching. That’s probably five to 10 times the number that we’ve had in the past,” said Eric Hirsch of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project.

Protesters are calling on Rhode Island leaders to increase shelter capacity at a faster rate.

“It’s October. We probably need about 500 beds, and they’re way behind. So, we’re just doing this protest to try to keep the pressure on them to open these beds more quickly,” Hirsch said.

Republican candidate for governor, Ashley Kalus, joined the protest and called for more to be done.

“He throws money at things but doesn’t demand results. We’re going into winter with individuals, people who do not have shelter over their head. He needs to be more involved to ensure that people have housing,” Kalus said.

At the same time as the protest, McKee joined other politicians at Crossroads Rhode Island for a “Celebration of Housing” touting the $36 million approved in the budget to address the issue.

“We’re implementing the plan as quickly as we can” McKee said.

Some of those funds are going to help Crossroads Rhode Island build new apartments with others will help expand shelter capacity.

“We’ll deliver on the promise that I made last year that on the coldest day of the year. If someone needs a warm bed to sleep in, they’re going to have it,” McKee said.

Crossroads leaders said it’s important to focus on both the short- and long-term solutions.

“Our unsheltered numbers of homeless in the state unfortunately has grown, so we do need more shelter right now while we’re building housing,” said Michelle Wilcox, president of Crossroads Rhode Island.

McKee said those additional shelter beds will be available by Thanksgiving. He said he’s also working with cities and towns across the state to continue to address the issue.