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Editorial: What we’re fighting for

As we recover from Spring Weekend, prepare for finals and enjoy the newly beautiful weather, Emma Jerzyk’s ’17 April 8 Herald article should be a wakeup call to us all. Jerzyk profiles several homeless Rhode Islanders and explores how so many remain affected by the 2008 recession and subsequent funding cuts. Brown students may spend the next few weeks finishing up coursework and preparing for the summer vacation, but we would all do well to read these tales and ensure that we do not forget those who are too often left behind.

Almost 5,000 individuals in Rhode Island are homeless, a figure that has jumped by almost 950 since 2007. This figure is part of a larger dispiriting picture of the economy of Rhode Island, whose unemployment rate, 8.7 percent, is the highest in the country. It has been estimated that about 40,000 jobs were lost in the state during the recession, and only half have been subsequently restored. Currently, residents making minimum wage struggle to find decent living arrangements. The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless estimates that a single worker making minimum wage would need to work 102 hours every week to pay for a two-bedroom apartment. Even prior to the recession, one in four renters in Rhode Island spent more than half their income paying for housing, leaving them incredibly vulnerable to homelessness in the face of rent hikes or job loss.

Further, funding cuts have besieged the nonprofit organizations intended to help those struggling in the downturn. In the face of such cuts, the Urban League of Rhode Island has been forced to close the men’s homeless shelter and temporarily shutter the Elmhurst women’s shelter. Similarly, state and city funding cuts have translated into less money for housing subsidies and food assistance.

While stimulus funding intended to offset budget cuts expired in 2012, the passage of the Homeless Bill of Rights was a bright spot. The text of the law ensures that homeless Rhode Islanders are ensured the right to vote and prevents discrimination against them while seeking jobs and housing. The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless has distributed hundreds of bilingual cards to individuals to help them understand their newfound rights and how to protect them. The Coalition continues to operate the Homeless Legal Clinic, which serves homeless and at-risk clients free of charge. The clinic utilizes the services of staffers, volunteer attorneys and students.

The Coalition has identified specific public policy initiatives to assist current homeless people and to help stabilize at-risk residents. These include discharge planning, emergency aid programs and tenant protection policies and laws. The only long-term solution, of course, is dedicated affordable housing with support programs. One organization in Rhode Island, Housing First, began in 2006 and demonstrated substantial benefits. Housing First had a success rate of 90 percent in providing supportive housing.

As we students explore the world around ourselves and choose our long-term career paths, it is important that we remember to support institutions such as the Coalition for the Homeless in a variety of ways. Some of us may choose to enter the nonprofit world directly, working every day to design programs that benefit our fellow citizens. Others may volunteer or work on campaigns to ensure that these organizations are adequately supported.

Whatever avenues we choose, we will have opportunities to assist and support the neediest around us. It is our responsibility to seek out these options beyond college when they are perhaps not as obviously accessible as, for example, the Swearer Center for Public Service. Homelessness in particular is a pervasive social issue that each of us bears a responsibility for and a common interest in fighting. However engrossed we become with our daily tasks, we must always step back and consider those who are too often left behind.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to


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