Advocates in Rhode Island are urging state leaders to hold to their commitment to invest resources in the state’s plan to end homelessness. In 2013, NLIHC State Coalition Partner, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) succeeded in securing $750,000 for rental assistance in the state budget, a significant first step toward advancing the plan (see Memo, 8/9/13). Advocates have already began efforts ahead of the 2014 state legislative session to secure $3.4 million for rental housing vouchers for FY15, the initial funding request of advocates during the 2013 session, in addition to $439,000 for homeless prevention and assistance. The amounts mirror the state’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s proposed amounts to fund the plan at an appropriate level.
RICH recently released a report card analyzing the state’s progress with implementation of Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s strategic plan to end homelessness. Although the state has made some progress toward the plan’s goals, advocates gave the state a “C+” rating, largely due to the lack of an ongoing commitment to fully fund housing programs for very low income families, and the need to shift from costly short-term solutions like shelters, to lasting and cost-effective solutions like affordable housing.
“We can do better,” said Jim Ryczek, RICH’s executive director. “Slightly above average may be acceptable for a math test or school project but Opening Doors Rhode Island is dealing with people’s lives and given that, we feel we should strive for nothing less than an “A+. Our state is positioned to make huge strides in addressing homelessness but at the end of the day financial investments are needed to actualize the goals in the plan.”
In addition to fully funding rental and homeless prevention assistance, RICH recommends the state leverage available federal funding sources, Medicaid expansion for example, to help advance the plan, and commit appropriate state department staff and resources to the plan’s implementation, as well as planning for the transition from sheltering services to housing.
RICH also launched a Change.org petition to call on Governor Lincoln Chafee (D) to support full funding for Opening Doors Rhode Island in his FY15 budget request, which advocates expect to be submitted to the state General Assembly by the end of January. More than 1,100 supporters signed the petition, exceeding RICH’s goal.
RICH has helped put a face to the need for housing by organizing various tours for the governor. In 2012, RICH lead Governor Chafee on a tour of Harrington Hall, the largest congregate shelter in the state. Having educated the governor about the homeless crisis, advocates presented the governor with a solution to address the issue during a recent tour of permanent supportive housing, which included developments operated by House of Hope CDC, a member of RICH.
During the 2014 legislative session, RICH and its allies will continue their focus on building champions in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Additionally, they will highlight services provided by their organizational members at a State House Project Homeless Connect. Weekly events at the State House will provide opportunities for homeless individuals and families to access services, from haircuts to help with housing applications.
“Opening Doors Rhode Island is an ambitious but realistic plan to address the very serious issue of homelessness in our state,” said Ryczek. “The Plan, however, is only as good as its implementation, which is why we did the Report Card, to get an assessment of how we are all doing on making the important transition from “sheltering” those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness to “housing” them.”
For more information, contact LeeAnn Byrne, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, at email@example.com.
View the report card at: http://bit.ly/1fezdrI