Disabled, sick with cancer, and being evicted while unhoused
Cranston Police gave Bobby and Kate until Wednesday to leave their encampment.
As usual, the names and locations are being deliberately obscured to protect the unhoused people in this story from further violence.
On Friday I walked along what seemed to be an old train route - in Cranston near the Providence border - with Amy, a social worker with Better Lives Rhode Island. I was going to meet with a man and a woman - Bobby and Kate - who were living in a tent under what seemed to be a train bridge, a dry, safe spot well out of public sight. We shuffled through leaves and in the distance, on the other side of the short tunnel, I could see the remains of a larger encampment. There was no one there now.
Outside the tent, Amy announced our presence. At first, Bobby and Kate did not open the tent.
Amy: I heard a rumor. I heard that the cops came to you guys and told you you had to leave.
Bobby: Yeah, we got to be out here by Wednesday.
Amy: They only told you, they didn't give you a written notice?
Bobby: No written notice. It was the Cranston Police.
Amy: My friend Steve, a reporter, is here with me. We want to accurately reflect what's going on so that we can best help you. Nobody comes through here, you shouldn't have to move...
Bobby: And we don't cause any problems or anything.
Amy: I know, sweetheart. This is the one place you should never have to move from because nobody comes down here and this is the one place I know that Danny and I can come out and bring you everything you need and where you won't be touched by the weather. So Kate, if you could just maybe have a little chit-chat with us - I don't want you to have to move again.
Steve Ahlquist: How are you doing? Sorry to disturb you.
Amy: We want to talk to you so we can keep you here. Especially as sick as Bobby is. It would be best if you didn't have to move again.
Kate: He can't even get up and go anywhere.
Bobby is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. His wheelchair is in disrepair. He also has cancer.
Kate unzipped the tent flap so we could talk face-to-face.
Amy: I know, honey. Steve, this is Bobby. This is Kate.
Steve Ahlquist: Hi. I'm Steve. I write about these issues as much as I can and I'd love to know what's going on.
Amy: We had to move them from the bike path.
Steve Ahlquist: Yes. I was there that day. I was there when they were moving.
Bobby: The reason we have to move is because they're going to fence off both ends of this tunnel.
Amy: Why do they have to fence it off? Did they tell you?
Bobby: Because of the new place being built up the hill there, the plaza they are building.
Less than a quarter mile away, towards the Providence-Cranston border, and up a steep slippery incline, there was construction going on. I’m not sure if the construction is residential or commercial.
Amy: So they have to move because they're going to fence off this tunnel. This location has been a saving grace. This is where they've been since they moved. I don't want you to have to move again.
Kate: What are we going to do? Put him in a wheelchair and push it?
Bobby: I can't even pack up my stuff because I've been so sick.
Amy: I know.
Steve Ahlquist: What did the police say about getting out? Did they offer any services or talk to you?
Bobby: They said they'll send down a social worker. We haven't seen any.
Amy: I'm a social worker, but they didn't ask us. They don't ask us, and we've always been here. Did they tell you which social worker they were sending down?
Amy: Can I tell you something? They didn't tell Better Lives you had to move. They didn't tell House of Hope. I checked with them. They haven't told anyone.
Kate: We told Dan. [Dan is another social worker from Better Lives].
Amy motioned towards an empty spot where a tent used to be.
Amy: Tyler's gone, right? Tyler's not staying here?
Bobby: They threw everybody out down there. The Providence Police went down there and threw all those other ones out.
Amy [to Steve]: You know about that, right?
Steve Ahlquist: No, I haven't heard.
Amy: Cranston Street lower. Providence Police already took care of them. They already got them out.
Steve Ahlquist: Where did they go? Do we know?
Amy: All over. There were about ten people in all. They said it was for their safety.
Bobby: Brad and Jennifer - they moved them out. And there was another couple, right?
Amy: Tyler's the only one I don't know about because Tyler hasn't checked in.
Kate: Tyler hasn't been down here.
When encampments are disrupted, very often providers find themselves cut off from the people they are trying to serve. It can be weeks, months, or even never before services can find people again.
Steve Ahlquist: And we are in Cranston right now, correct? We're in Cranston, but very near the border of Providence.
Bobby: And the Providence cops came and threw them all out.
Amy: So Cranston cops are the ones that talked to you? Or was it Providence cops?
Bobby: Cranston. Providence cops threw them out immediately and the Cranston Police told us that we had a week. That was last Wednesday.
Steve Ahlquist: So two days ago they came and told you had a week. They're coming on Wednesday to evict you.
Amy: So the whole thing has already been handled. They threw them out immediately. That's not cool.
Bobby: I didn't even know. It's not right. They've been throwing everybody out all over the place.
Amy: That's why Steve's here.
Steve Ahlquist: I'm going to talk about this. I'm going to bring it to the Mayor of Cranston. I don't know what will happen, but I'll do my best to at least let people know this is happening.
Amy: We'll be out by Tuesday to find someplace for you to go. We'll figure it out. We'll do whatever we have to. I'm so sorry.
Walking back to our cars, Amy and I discussed fencing off the tunnel as a form of hostile architecture, a means of enduring that unhoused people cannot shelter or rest in certain places. Then:
Amy: He has cancer. We do get him to treatments here and there, but...
Steve Ahlquist: If treatment isn't sustained, it will not be effective. I can't imagine trying to survive cancer out here. I hope he's not in too much pain.
Zachary Deluca, who does communications for the Administration of Cranston Mayor Kenneth Hopkins, wrote, in response to my query:
“May I ask, roughly where are the couple being asked to leave from? Or when did the initial interaction with officers occur?
”Without much information on the incident to look into, I’m afraid there is no comment the mayor can make at this time.”
I provided additional information. This story will be updated if the city replies.
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