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Woonsocket installs anti-homeless architecture in Social Park
And I was threatened with arrest while covering the story...
"If you touch those armrests, I'll have you arrested!" said the man from Woonsocket Public Works to me this morning in Woonsocket's Social Park, as I sat on a bench by the Bocce and Quoit Courts.
I started my video.
"What did you say?" I asked.
"You heard me," said the man. "You don't touch those arms."
"No, you don't touch them."
"So I can't put my arm on the armrests?" I asked.
"Are you putting a tool behind there?" he asked.
"I don't have a tool, I have a phone," I replied, which I now realize is not completely accurate because my phone is a tool of sorts.
"We're friends here," said the man.
"We're friends?" I asked. "I don't think so."
"You don't do those things," he said.
"Let me ask you this, when did these go up?"
"We had three of these removed already," said the man.
"Why?" I asked.
"Why?" he asked.
"Oh! You didn't remove them," I said.
"We didn't remove them,” he explained. “The guys are coming with tools and removing them.”
"That makes sense to me," I said.
"Why does that make sense?" asked the man.
"Because they were put here to hurt people, right?" I replied. "They were put here to keep people from being able to lay down."
The man walked to the bench and sat down, resting his arm on the armrest.
"How are they hurt?" he asked.
"If they try to lay down they're going to have trouble, right?" I said.
"I don't think so," said the man. "It's for senior citizens to rest their arms."
"That makes sense," I lied. "That's the only reason they went in."
"It's the only reason I know of," said the man.
"Why would anybody want to remove them then?" I asked.
"We already had three people try to remove these," he said.
"You had people try or do?" I asked.
"Do. We had to come back and reattach them," he said.
"That might be an ongoing thing then," I suggested.
"Yeah," said the man.
"I was just seeing how these armrests are affixed," I said.
"You come here every day," he said. [I don't.] "You know how malicious they are."
"What kind of people? When you say 'they,' who are?" I asked, a little at a loss for words.
"Somebody's removing them," said the man. "Whether they're Martians or aliens from another planet, somebody's removing them."
Community organization Rebuild Woonsocket issued a statement on Tuesday strongly condemning the City of Woonsocket’s recent construction of what they term “hostile bench architecture” in Social Park. Hostile architecture, also known as defensive architecture, hostile design, unpleasant design, exclusionary design, anti-homeless architecture, and defensive urban design, “is an urban-design strategy that uses elements of the built environment to purposefully guide or restrict behavior. It often targets people who use or rely on public space more than others, such as youth, poor people, and homeless people, by restricting the physical behaviors they can engage in.”
In January, Allen Charette died, alone and unsheltered on a cold night in Social Park. His body was discovered on one of those benches.
“It’s an act of violence,” said Rebuild Woonsocket Executive Director Alex Kithes. “This is the newest development in the city’s - and in particular, the Baldelli-Hunt Administration’s - long string of attacks, both systemic and direct, on our unhoused neighbors.”
The Baldelli-Hunt Administration has a history of bad housing policy that favors the wealthy and well-connected over the working class, wrote Rebuild Woonsocket in their press release. “They’ve also regularly used the force of the city government to directly interfere with the survival of unhoused community members, such as the eviction and bulldozing of a homeless encampment on public property in January of this year. The city has recently begun coordinating with the community to implement small-scale band-aid solutions, and for that we're thankful. But we need large-scale, systemic fixes to the housing crisis.”
Rebuild Woonsocket quotes a resident of the neighborhood near the Social Park who said, “The consensus in our neighborhood is that nobody is bothered by the folks in the park. A lot of us have relationships with people that we’ve seen in the area for years. I don’t feel unsafe, and the only thing that bothers me about people sleeping in the park is that they’re being forced to sleep outside because of a lack of affordable housing.”
“Over the past few years, residents of Woonsocket showed overwhelming support for a substantial municipal investment in affordable housing,” continued Kithes. “It’s time the city government focused on taking care of the needs of our community.”
I covered Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s ongoing actions against her unhoused residents here: