Letter to Woonsocket City Council Regarding Homeless People
Written by Benedict F. Lessing, Jr., President/CEO, Community Care Alliance
Submitted to Woonsocket City Council members prior to Council meeting on October 2, 2023
Dear City Council Members,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Board and Staff of Community Care Alliance. Over the past several weeks, our outreach staff and many of the homeless individuals and families we serve have heard consistent rumors that the City will implement sweeps of local homeless encampments to remove this vulnerable population. We cannot verify whether this is an accurate plan or not. That being said, we urge the Council not to endorse this approach for the following reasons:
- There simply are not sufficient shelter resources to address the local need.
- Irrespective of how difficult it is to see these encampments whether in Woonsocket or elsewhere, the reality is that homeless individuals are subject to daily trauma psychologically and their healthcare is impacted as has been evidenced by the over 30 deaths locally in recent years. Sweeps will only add to this trauma.
- The Council's efforts would be better focused on advocating to the General Assembly and Department of Housing to develop sufficient intermediate shelter resources and then more affordable and supported housing to meet the need of individuals and families.
As we have commented and testified on multiple occasions, the homeless crisis in RI is a complex issue that particularly impacts low-income individuals who simply cannot access or afford housing within their financial means. The situation is further exacerbated by the numbers of people that experience serious mental illness and/or addiction concerns and increasingly, families with children. The scarcity of affordable housing has been a problem in RI for years and became even more acutely so, subsequent to the pandemic. The most reasonable approach to this problem should focus on shelter, treatment resources and an array of new housing options. Seeing individuals who are the victims as "the problem" of this situation is not only not productive, but it also eliminates their dignity, humanity and minimizes the despair in which they live on a daily basis.
Again, we would urge the Council to work in particular with the General Assembly, Department of Housing and BHDDH to provide additional shelter and treatment resources in Woonsocket, Northern RI and throughout the State.