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State admits those camping at State House not offered alternative shelter

On Friday, November 18, Chris Raia, a spokesperson for Housing Secretary Josh Saal and the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development sent a statement to RINewsToday alleging that all of the people living in tents in front of the State House have “declined opportunities to move to alternative shelter resources.” 

On Friday, Uprise RI spoke to eight people living at the State House and all eight confirmed that Raia’s statement is not true. Michael Neugent was the first person to set up a tent there this August; in the 16 weeks he’s lived at the State House, he has not been offered any “alternative shelter resources,” nor is aware of anyone who has been.

In a call with Uprise RI on Saturday, Saal said that, “The statement that we provided Nancy [Thomas, from RINewsToday] with was, at a minimum, inartfully phrased, to put it lightly, and does not reflect the situation that’s very real and very case-by-case with anyone who is camping out.” Following this call, the statement is now in the process of being revised.

“It’s much more complex than ‘accepted’ or ‘declined,’ and I don’t think that [it] was accurate to say they have ‘declined,’” Saal added. “The situation is that we contract street outreach workers, and that’s mostly House of Hope and Crossroads who have been going there three times a week or so, at a minimum. Some people engage [with outreach workers], some people don’t.” 

However, no one living at the State House has been offered an actual shelter bed through these outreach efforts, largely due to a complete lack of available shelter. When outreach workers meet people interested in a shelter bed, they contact the Coordinated Entry System (CES) – the program that oversees nearly all of the shelter beds in the state – on a person’s behalf. When CES is contacted and there are no suitable beds available, people are added to the waiting list. As of last week, 392 households living outside were on…

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