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Metro Roundup: McKee funds additional homeless shelter beds amid protests

Rhode Island receives federal funds for high-speed internet; new bishop to take over Diocese of Providence

<p>Dozens of advocates and individuals experiencing homelessness gathered outside the State House on Monday to demand 500 new beds in state homeless shelters.</p>

Dozens of advocates and individuals experiencing homelessness gathered outside the State House on Monday to demand 500 new beds in state homeless shelters.

McKee administration expands shelter capacity

Governor Dan McKee announced the authorization of $1.4 million in spending to expand Rhode Island’s homeless shelter capacity by 77 beds, according to a Nov. 23 press release. The expansion will bring the number of shelter beds in Rhode Island to over 1,000, according to the release. 

Additionally, the state Department of Housing is finalizing separate incentive-based plans that aim to add another 43 beds, the release noted.

“While the long-term solution to homelessness is to build more permanent supportive housing units across the state, increasing shelter bed capacity is an immediate necessity for Rhode Island’s current situation,” R.I. Secretary of Housing Josh Saal ’09 said in the release. “Our goal is to work with our provider partners to swiftly get these newly funded beds online, while we continue … investing in programs and initiatives to prevent homelessness, and when not possible, make it rare, brief and non-recurring.”

The announcement followed a Nov. 21 rally in which dozens of advocates and individuals experiencing homelessness demonstrated outside the State House to demand 500 new beds, The Boston Globe reported. Demand for beds currently outstrips shelter capacity, even with the newly-announced beds bringing the total number over 1,000: As of Nov. 3, 1,339 people are experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island, with 507 people living outdoors and 729 people waiting for a shelter bed, according to data from the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness.

Federal money to fund broadband development plans

The Biden administration has granted the Ocean State $5.5 million to develop a plan to expand the state’s high-speed internet capacity, according to a Nov. 22 press release from the Department of Commerce. 

The funding comes as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. The IIJA appropriates $65 million in federal spending for broadband development nationwide, according to the release.

This grant will allow Rhode Island to “plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable and reliable high-speed internet throughout the state,” according to the press release. 

U.S. Secretary of Commerce and former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo characterized the funds as an important “first step” in providing equitable internet access throughout the Ocean State. “This money will allow the state to conduct the important planning and digital equity work vital to making this program a success,” she said in the press release.

Rhode Island’s broadband infrastructure is underdeveloped in many areas, according to a January report from Connect Greater Newport, a development-focused division of the Newport Chamber of Commerce. The report found that 42% of the populated area of Rhode Island is unserved or underserved in terms of internet access, meaning that “134,000 households and small businesses do not have access to broadband that meets the federal definition of ‘served.’ ” According to the report, the federal definition of “served” means download and upload “speeds equal to or above 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.”

Bishop Henning to succeed Tobin as leader of Providence diocese

Pope Francis has appointed Richard Henning to succeed Thomas Tobin, the current bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Providence, ahead of Tobin’s anticipated exit in the spring. Henning, who is currently auxiliary bishop of a diocese that covers most of Long Island, N.Y., will serve alongside Tobin as a coadjutor bishop starting in January, according to the Providence Journal

The Diocese of Providence covers the entirety of Rhode Island, which is over 40% Catholic, according to 2017 data.

Tobin’s retirement is the result of a Church rule which requires that bishops resign when they turn 75, a milestone that will come for Tobin on April 1 of next year. 

Tobin has garnered national attention for his outspoken socially conservative stances — especially his opposition to abortion and LGBTQ+ rights — as leader of Rhode Island’s Catholic Church, according to the Journal. Henning did not explicitly echo Tobin’s conservative views at a Nov. 23 press conference, declaring that he does not differ from Pope Francis — who has expressed support for same-sex civil unions — on doctrinal issues, the Journal reported.

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