Metro

R.I. reports fewer homeless for second consecutive year

Community, state agencies notice slight decrease in usage of homeless support services

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, February 27, 2015

Though the Ocean State’s homeless population decreased nearly 10 percent in the last year, government and community organizations continue to make efforts to ease the burden faced by the approximately 4,000 people who still have no place to live.

Rhode Island’s homeless population shrank by 8.5 percent in the past year, according to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. The number of individuals experiencing homelessness is determined annually based on the amount of people who have spent at least one night in one of the state’s shelters. “Whether you come in for one night or all 365 nights, you are counted once as a person who went to a shelter,” said Jim Ryczek, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.

Last year was the second consecutive year the state saw a decline in the homeless population after rising since 2007. The numbers rose from 3,926 in 2007 to 4,868 in 2012 and only began to decline in 2013.

Services in Rhode Island dedicated to serving the homeless have noticed the recent decrease. The R.I. Department of Human Services stated that usage of its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has declined  2 percent over the past year, “from 179,000 individuals to 176,000 individuals,” said Michael Jolin, legislative and media liaison for the Department of Human Services. The Department’s Rhode Island Works Program, a service that offers temporary cash assistance and job search training, has seen an 8 percent decline in those utilizing the service.

Comparing Rhode Island’s homelessness challenges to those of neighboring states, Ryczek said though the Ocean State has an average-sized homeless population, “regionally we are behind the curve (in terms of) investments and the solution around affordable housing.”

Despite the decline in the number of homeless people, “the shelter systems are still full,” Ryczek said. Fewer first-time homeless people are visiting the shelters, which may be “great from a prevention standpoint,” but a large portion of people remain trapped in the shelter system because they cannot afford to live out in the community, Ryczek added.

Recently proposed pieces of legislation are directly aimed  at addressing this lack of affordable housing. Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, and Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, introduced two bills Wednesday calling for the Department of Human Services and community action programs to provide emergency housing assistance funds. “We know how to end homelessness. … We should feel ashamed that we — as a state, as a government, as human beings — are not doing more to help them,” Lombardi said in a Feb. 25 press release.

Amid this year’s brutal winter, the government  is also providing more affordable housing by subsidizing heating bills. In January, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., announced that the state will receive an additional $2.46 million under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, increasing Rhode Island’s total share of federal funding under the program to $27.1 million.