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Michael Nugent was arrested for being unhoused today. The official charge was trespassing.
Criminalizing homelessness is becoming the norm...
Today at 1:12 pm Michael Nugent was arrested by Providence Police Officers for the crime of being poor and unhoused. The official charge was trespassing.
Michael expected the arrest. 50 hours earlier police officers delivered an eviction notice, authorized by Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and Police Chief Oscar Perez, to Michael at his tent encampment at the Orms Street Route 95 overpass. As police approached him, Michael stood in the rain and held his arms out for the handcuffs. He was taken quietly into custody.
The Smiley Administration today released the following statement:
"With each encampment that has been reported to the City, we have consistently worked with our State and local partners to primarily offer access to shelter, resources, and care. Many of these encampments are located by major roadways and are unsafe to live in.
"In this particular circumstance, the City and State have worked with Crossroads, and other providers, to provide the individual at Orms Street with shelter, medical care, medical supplies, and behavioral health support that he has consistently refused. Yesterday, to keep this individual safe, Providence Police once again offered to connect him to care and notified him that he needed to clear the site by Friday.
"In this particular case, this is State property that the State has indicated no one is allowed to be on and has asked the City to help support."
The situation is not nearly as rosy as the Smiley Administration’s statement makes it seem. In truth, there is simply not enough housing available for the growing number of homeless people in our state. One estimate is that there are more than 25 families with children living in cars or other places unfit for human habitation in Providence, and that number is liable to grow since the state stopped funding the Family Care Community Partnership [FCCP], a program run through the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).
The sentence about state involvement is interesting because I learned that behind the scenes, the City was reacting to pressure from Governor Daniel McKee, who was, in turn, reacting to right-wing radio and television shock jock Gene Valicenti. In a recent interview segment featuring the Governor, Valicenti complained about the presence of Michael Nugent at the Orms Street overpass.
This is exactly the same scenario that led to the raid on the Charles Street Encampment, which forced dozens of unhoused people to lose possessions, access to critical services, and contact with outreach workers.
After the arrest today, private contractors hired by the state began the process of sorting through Michael's possessions, throwing most of them away, and storing the rest on the off chance that Michael might be able to retrieve them within 30 days.
RIHAP and other homeless advocates will be holding a protest at the Providence City Hall on Wednesday, October 4th at 3 pm to demand a set of more compassionate policies around encampments.
As this story was going to press I learned, in an unconfirmed report, that Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt took Governor McKee on a tour of homeless encampments in her city today. Police made two arrests. More to come.
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