A letter to Woonsocket Delegates
By Michelle P. Taylor, MS, CAGS, LMHC, VP of Social Services
Personally Read to the Woonsocket City Council on January 9, 2023
Good evening. My name is Michelle Taylor, and I am Vice President of Social Health Services at Community Care Alliance. I’ve been with the agency for over 25 years. I grew up in Woonsocket, and I have family who still lives in the City. As all the good French-Canadians say “Je me souviens.” I remember. There are many things to be proud of here, but this City’s treatment of its most vulnerable citizens is not one of them. Homelessness is not a personal moral failing or a lifestyle choice, but a catastrophic failure of the system. In the words of Gregg Colburn, Homelessness is a Housing Problem. I encourage you to read this book. If you are interested, I am happy to loan you mine. I can assure you that handing out tents and sleeping bags has neither caused nor perpetuated this problem. We have kept people alive. But not everyone. This year, we lost 13 Woonsocket residents due to the negative consequences of homelessness.
As of today, there are approximately 35 people living outside in Woonsocket, possibly more. Another 20+ individuals find shelter each night at the Harvest Community Shelter. We have over 80 adults and children at the NRI Shelter in Smithfield. Everyone in this room will agree that homelessness is a problem. It is clear, however, that we don’t agree on the solution. It’s time to admit that a policy of harassment is not the answer. That strategy has not found housing for people, nor has it forced them to move out of the City, as you hope. Why not? Because these are OUR people. This is their home. This is where their family, supports and services are. They want to be here and we are failing them.
I am here tonight to ask you to work with the human services providers in the City. There are solutions to this problem. When we provide emergency shelter, we save lives, improve physical and behavioral health, connect people with resources, get people working, preserve families, reduce crime and connect them with housing. When people remain on the streets, it is nearly impossible to achieve these outcomes because all of our energy is directed at crisis intervention.
Woonsocket has done a good job of establishing affordable housing, exceeding the 10% target, but your work is not finished. A housing wage is $49,920, while the median income of Woonsocket residents is $44,310. That means that more than half of the population doesn’t earn adequate income to afford fair market rent.
The good news is that there are solutions and you have a wealth of human services resources available to you in the City. I encourage you not to waste another day. Establish a Housing Workgroup that includes these community partners. Together, we can end homelessness, creating a healthier and safer community.