The official figures, however, do not represent the total number of homeless in our state, but only those who are serviced by a shelter. Many homeless individuals and families never even set foot in our shelters. Some keep moving from friend to friend, sleeping on couches, on inflatable beds in basements and other make-shift arrangements. Others sleep in their vehicles, moving from one parking lot to another. A few find shelter in the woods, or in campgrounds that are closed for the season.
Homelessness is indeed a growing problem, not only in Rhode Island but across this nation. According to the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness, admissions into Rhode Island shelters have been increasing and more first-time clients are among the working poor. The situation is not improving.
The recent mortgage and financial crisis have precipitated many serious housing issues, complicated by a lack of legislation to adequately protect paying tenants from eviction due to foreclosures. The number of working families who have lost their home has consequently continued to increase. The Rhode Island Emergency Food and Shelter Board has reported that rising housing costs and lack of adequate income have been the two main reasons for homelessness for several years now.
The annual reports of the Rhode Island Emergency Shelter Information Project state that
Homelessness in Rhode Island can be effectively addressed through full implementation of the state's strategic plan to end homelessness. This involves creation of subsidized family apartments and permanent supportive housing for single adults through programs like housing first programs and the Neighborhood Opportunities Program; creative use of rental subsidies and apartment based shelter programs such as First Step; homelessness prevention efforts; use of existing mainstream government programs such as income support and health insurance programs; and coordination of all helping agency efforts.
As one of our interviewees stated, we know what the solution to homelessness is. But if we know how to resolve homelessness, then why is it getting worse?
When all is said and done, it is still a matter of will. The will of our leaders, of our neighborhoods, and our own. Are we willing to set aside the greed and the prejudices that are undermining these solutions? Are we willing to really work together to implement solutions that have been proven feasible and more economical for our society than the current state of things? The answer is important, but it is not provided by others. It is up to us, individually and collectively, to be moved by compassion and to make a difference.