As freezing temperatures descended on Rhode Island, members of Occupy Providence rallied today to pressure the state government to respond to escalating rates of homelessness and eviction that could leave some out in the cold this winter.
Occupiers teamed up with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, Direct Action for Rights and Equality and the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project to support legislation that addresses affordable housing, foreclosure and homelessness.
Two hundred protesters met at the Occupy Providence encampment in Burnside Park to embark on an hour-long march around the city, causing traffic jams as they filled the streets of downtown Providence with shouts of "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out" before finally assembling in front of the State House for an afternoon of songs and speeches.
Effectively occupying the grounds of the State House, the group held its daily general assembly there and planned to spend the night camped out on the premises to conclude the day's activities.
Protesters said combating homelessness and evictions directly relates to the Occupy movement's fight against corporate greed.
"There's a connection between corporate irresponsibility and homelessness in the state, and we're here today to point this out," said Saudi Garcia '14, a member of the student group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere and a former intern with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.
"Banks like Bank of America have been foreclosing on families who haven't been able to make payments without a sense of responsibility," she said, adding that families represent almost 40 percent of Rhode Island's homeless.
"It affects so many other parts of your life if you lose your home," said Beth Caldwell '12, president of HOPE, the student group. "It's really a foundational right for so many people."
That is the idea behind the Homeless Bill of Rights, one of the three legislative initiatives protesters rallied to support. The bill would specify rights that are often not recognized in the case of the homeless, such as free access to public spaces, the right to vote and the right to legal counsel, Caldwell said.
Occupiers also gathered in support of "just cause" legislation — which would prevent banks from evicting former tenants or homeowners willing and able to pay rent — and for the creation of a permanent funding source for affordable housing, a measure already in place in most states.
Though erecting tents without a permit and camping overnight on State House grounds after midnight is prohibited under state law, Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 temporarily waived the rule after negotiations with Occupiers.
In exchange, "Occupy Providence have agreed to a prompt, peaceful and orderly departure from the State House grounds" following the protest, according to a statement Chafee issued Friday.