Discover more from Steve Ahlquist
DOT contractors imperiled unhoused pregnant resident at Charles Street Tent Encampment
Also: OpenDoors maintains that CES was followed in allocating shelter beds to camp residents and PVD City Councilmember Justin Roias releases a statement.
"Yesterday, as outreach providers, volunteers, and staff were there to assist and evacuate residents of the Charles Street Tent Encampment, contractors from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began using heavy machinery to clear out encampment 'debris'” notes a press release from the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. "The operation of machinery delayed outreach efforts by outreach providers on-site and put residents, staff, and volunteers at risk, including a pregnant resident. This was despite several calls to the Department of Housing, local law enforcement, and even a call to 911 asking to stop the machinery from operating.
This reporter was there as the machinery chomped through a wooded area, reducing the property of unhoused people to trash and pushing some of it into the river. According to volunteers, operators of the equipment ignored their pleas to halt work, despite a pregnant woman being inside a tent and directly in the path of the machinery.
Here's some video, muted to protect the identities of people nearby who were speaking:
“The destabilizing and traumatic nature of encampment raids was magnified yesterday as heavy machinery operation further traumatized residents who were complying with the vacate order and working to gather their belongings,” said Alex Gautieri, Statewide Street Outreach Coordinator of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. “The way encampment clearings are currently done is inhumane and treating people’s homes and belongings as garbage further perpetuates the stereotype of people who are sleeping outside as unworthy of dignity and respect. We need better coordination that allows outreach workers to safely evacuate people before encampment clearings occur.”
The Coalition continued, "As encampment raids occur, state and municipal entities must double their efforts to better coordinate with outreach providers to ensure outreach workers have the time to help residents evacuate without fear of having heavy machinery bearing down on them. We also ask state and municipal officials to let outreach workers lead the work and rely on their expertise as we look for more humane temporary solutions to the unsheltered crisis."
Also, partly in response to my oped yesterday castigating state and city officials for their cruel and counterproductive actions, Nick Horton, co-executive director of OpenDoors sent the following statement, explaining, in part, the process by which residents of the Charles Street Tent Encampment were prioritized for shelter:
"OpenDoors has been working with the Department of Housing to expand shelter capacity at the Motel 6 shelter we operate in Warwick in response to the City of Providence's eviction of the Charles Street encampment, which victimized approximately 40 individuals. The Department of Housing worked over the weekend to help us make around 27 beds available in total, providing essential legwork and funding to get these beds open in time for them to be available to people being evicted. OpenDoors is still in the process of determining how many people from the encampment made it to the Motel, but we believe around seven so far received referrals from the Coordinated Entry System.
"Over the weekend, Joey Lindstrom reached us to alert us to the impending eviction and asked us to determine if we had any open beds at Motel 6 or beds that could be turned over quickly. We found seven beds that we were able to open in the CES system which previously had not been open due to a lag in our response time over the weekend or the rooms needing maintenance. Some of these beds ended up going to individuals from the encampment that had very high need. The Department of Housing then finalized an additional approximately $50,000 contract with us on Monday to add an additional 10 bedrooms at Motel 6, which were opened up on CES midday Monday for new referrals, and we received new residents that night, some of whom came from the encampment.
"The referral process that was used follows all standard CES protocols and Mr. Lindstrom and the Department of Housing have always been clear with us that they are not asking us to circumvent standard CES protocols. In this instance, outreach workers from other provider agencies updated the acuity scores in CES of those being evicted to reflect their increased need for housing and flagged those individuals in the system, and if they were appropriate referrals, they were referred to the open beds at our shelter. I want to add how much support and effort the Department of Housing and Mr. Lindstrom have put into trying to find housing for the people being evicted from this encampment.
"Our agency is very disturbed by the decision to undertake this eviction and the fact that it was done with only 48 hours after formal notice. We are still trying to understand the details of the aftermath of this incident, how many people ended up with shelter beds, and why this happened, but it is clear to us that it has had a disastrous effect on those that had been living there and will also result in negative effects on the greater Providence community as these individuals are forced into other parts of the City."
Justin Roias, the Providence City Councilmember representing Ward 4 where the encampment was located, had met with encampment residents and was seeking better solutions, but didn't have the time needed to facilitate them. Councilmember Roias released the following statement:
"I disagree with the City’s decision today to evict residents of the Charles Street encampment without ensuring they have alternative places to go. The lack of available shelter contributes to the growth of encampments across our city and state. I've urged the City to reconsider this decision or extend the deadline by a month. This would allow housing providers and outreach workers more time to help these residents secure suitable housing.
"Over several months, I've visited the encampment, brought food, and engaged with a diverse range of individuals. Last week, I witnessed a sobering realization of the tragic consequences stemming from our flawed system. I observed a young man, merely 30 years of age, succumbing to an overdose right before my eyes. The feeling of helplessness that washed over me is indescribable. The experience was profoundly distressing. As I watched, it felt like I was on the verge of losing him. Reacting swiftly, I called for immediate rescue assistance. Fortunately, members of the encampment had access to Narcan and promptly administered it, ultimately saving his life.
"Throughout this time, I've experienced frustration due to the slow progress and the challenges I've encountered in attempting to unite city and state officials and service providers into a collaborative effort. As a current social worker, I fully recognize the immense challenges inherent in this line of work.
"However, relocating individuals from one area without establishing a sustainable support plan has led to them resettling elsewhere in the city, failing to address the root problem.
"I hope that granting an extension of at least one month would allow us to genuinely collaborate as a unified front – bringing together the resources and determination of city and state government along with dedicated service providers. I believe we can overcome these obstacles together and make substantial strides toward securing appropriate shelter for those currently in the encampment."
There has been some reporting done suggesting that trash has been removed from the site. This is not exactly the case. The encampment was located on a mixture of public and private property. The part of the property owned by the state seems to have been cleaned up somewhat, though much of the trash ended up in the river. The part of the property that is privately owned is filled with trash, and a large flimsy sign has been erected.
Previous reporting on the Charles Street Tent Encampment: