The Providence Journal – Opinion/Santilli and Hayes: RI can be the first state to end homelessness

The Providence Journal – Opinion/Santilli and Hayes: RI can be the first state to end homelessness

opinion/Santilli and Hayes: RI can be the first state to end homelessness

Karen A. Santilli and Eileen Hayes Guest Columnists

Published 6:00 p.m. ET May 16, 2021


A homeless man holds a sign on Point and Eddy streets in Providence. David DelPoio, the Providence Journal


Karen A. Santilli is president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island. Eileen Hayes is president and CEO of Amos House. Laura Jaworski, executive director of House of Hope Community Development Corporation, contributed to this commentary.

As the heads of three organizations providing shelter and services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island, we believe that the American Rescue Plan Act and other federal stimulus funding should be used to make our jobs obsolete.

Each of our organizations also develop permanent supportive housing targeted for those who are homeless. Shelters help us treat the symptoms of homelessness, but housing is the cure. This pandemic proved beyond a doubt that housing truly is health.

Recently, we have noticed an alarming increase in the number of families that come to us having lost or on the verge of losing their homes. The added difficulties of child care during the pandemic have limited the number of hours parents can work, or worse, led some parents to lose the jobs on which their families rely.

Some families have managed to avoid losing their homes by accessing federal assistance to pay past due rent or utilities. Others have managed to stay in their homes because of a temporary ban on evictions that was put in place last year. Unfortunately, the eviction moratorium is being threatened by a recent federal court ruling. Once the ban on evictions is lifted, we expect the demand for both rental assistance and affordable housing to continue to rise.

In April, the Rhode Island Foundation and other economic leaders throughout the state began a six-month process to develop recommendations for how the governor and General Assembly should use the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to help the state recover from the aftermath of COVID-19.

Unlike many states, Rhode Island’s size makes building enough affordable and supportive housing to effectively end homelessness entirely possible. With these funds, we now have the opportunity to actually end homelessness. The question is, do we have the will to do what it takes?

Each year, approximately 4,000 Rhode Islanders will experience homelessness — and that was our reality before the global pandemic pushed so many more households to the brink of homelessness. During the pandemic, Rhode Island experienced an increase of 70% in unsheltered homeless — those living in places unfit for human habitation.

Building new housing is not only possible but also practical as it will help the entire housing market meet demand. The housing market in Rhode Island was facing significant capacity issues before the pandemic. The cost of owning and renting a home will only increase unless we add additional units that people can afford. Compared to our neighboring states, Rhode Island’s investment in homelessness and housing is less than $20 per capita — an embarrassing comparison. The opportunity presented by this infusion of federal funds can bring us to par with our neighbors.

We want to make our jobs service providers obsolete. We are focusing more and more of our efforts on curing homelessness, which we know is a public health crisis, instead of just treating its symptoms. The only way to do that is by building more housing, particularly supportive housing for the homeless.

We humbly ask the members of the Make it Happen initiative, the governor and members of the General Assembly to consider Rhode Island’s opportunity to end homelessness as you decide how the state invests the incoming federal stimulus funds.


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