Bill proposes support for homeless

A ‘Wizard of Oz’-themed rally asked that the state allocate $3 million to implement the legislation

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 4, 2013

A crowd of nearly 200 students, state residents and state legislators gathered Wednesday to support a bill for housing vouchers at a “Wizard of Oz”-themed rally.

The bill — introduced in the House in February and currently pending review by the House Finance Committee — seeks $3 million for “rental asistance” and an additional $250,000 to increase the number of winter homeless shelters in the state.

Supporters dressed as Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion greeted rally-goers as they entered the State House rotunda. Other protestors handed out signs bearing slogans like “There’s no place like home” and “Home is where the heart is.”

The supporter dressed as Dorothy sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to quiet the crowd before Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Jim Ryzcek addressed the crowd.

The plan to curb homelessness has already been created and approved but needs government funding to be implemented, Ryzcek said. He said he is frequently asked where the plan’s multimillion dollar budget will come from and that it is not a lack of state funds but a misallocation of those resources that presents an obstacle.

Eric Hirsch, professor of sociology at Providence College, spoke next. Rhode Island’s homeless population increased between 2011 and 2012, he said. “It is about failure. It’s about the failure of our housing market … and our government.”

Housing prices and rent in Rhode Island are too high to afford on welfare or when earning the minimum wage, Hirsch added. To help the homeless, the General Assembly needs to fund the voucher system, he said.

“We can end homelessness in Rhode Island, but it might take a little more than clicking our heels to make it happen,” he said.

Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, one of the bill’s sponsors, saidhomelessness is “the most important issue” the state needs to address.

“If you don’t know where you’re going to sleep at night, how can you worry about your math or English test scores?” Slater asked. Having a stable home is a “basic human right,” he said.

“With a multimillion dollar budget,” he added, “we should be ashamed that we can’t find $3 million for this.”

Rhode Island’s government should make homelessness “a priority today,” said Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls, Pawtucket and Cumberland, another sponsor, to a round of applause from the crowd.

“Isn’t it a shame,” she added, that people in Rhode Island “have to make a choice between a roof over (their) heads or food in (their) bellies?”

“It’s a disease, and we have a vaccine: It’s called a voucher,” she said.

The legislators then stepped down to give Deborah, a state resident who was previously homeless for three years, a chance to tell her story.

Deborah said she has been in and out of shelters around the state, many of which were overcrowded. “There was one with one shower and one toilet for 25 women,” she said.

She now lives a “normal life” because of  state housing assistance, she said. “There’s nothing like having your own place, it changes your whole life … I just thank God that I have a home.”

“I feel more like a member of society,” said Scott, a Newport resident who recently emerged from homelessness.

“How are great civilizations judged? By money? Power?” he asked. Sometimes, he said, great civilizations are best judged by “how well they treat their poor.”


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