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Providence police order residents out of their homes for an impromptu "head count"
Under the law people have the “right to a reasonable expectation of privacy... to the same extent as if [they] were in a house.”
On Wednesday a group of Providence Police Officers, responding to a complaint, ordered a dozen or more city residents out of their homes for a “head count.” The officers took photos of the residents, and then told them that after a meeting on Thursday morning, they might come back and force them out of their homes “immediately.” Residents independently confirmed this account in personal interviews with me later in the afternoon.
The residents live in the Charles Street Tent Encampment and under state law, as codified in the Homeless Bill of Rights, have the “right to a reasonable expectation of privacy (protected from search or seizure) of [their] personal belongings, such as a backpack or a tent, to the same extent as if [they] were in a house.”
I’ve put in an Access to Public Records Act request to the City of Providence for the police body cam footage and for a copy of both the complaint that sparked the police visit and any reports the police officers may have filed.
In response to a request for comment, Providence Mayor Brett Smiley’s Communications Director Josh Estrella suggested that under-resourced, understaffed, and underpaid outreach workers are not providing sufficient services to those living in the encampment and bear some responsibility for the situation, instead of elected officials who have ignored the problem and pursued policies of criminalization, eviction, and displacement.
“There is no vacate order and while there was a police presence today, no one was ‘threatened with eviction.’ Conversations have been had with providers about better case counseling at this location to best support folks into housing who may be there knowing that this site has to be vacated soon,” said Estrella. “This particular encampment has been of grave concern due to serious risks of traffic-related accidents given the proximity to the highway, the fires, and now the flooding that happened over the last few months.”
According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, there were 348 individuals forced to spend at least one night in a place not meant for human habitation in the two weeks ending on June 30. Towns and cities such as West Warwick, Warwick, Cranston, Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket have all chosen to approach this problem through raids to clear encampments without making a real effort to meet the shelter and housing needs of their residents.
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