By Marc Larocque
Michelle Wilcox is the chief operating officer at Crossroads Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization that’s been on the front lines of the homelessness crisis in the Ocean State for decades. Recently, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza announced that the city will be using nearly $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to combat homelessness, with Crossroads Rhode Island taking a lead role in a new program meant to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. This comes as homelessness is on the rise in Rhode Island in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 68% increase in people sleeping outside last year, according to Crossroads, along with a 15% increase in family homelessness.
PBN: How much does the high cost of rent impact the homelessness crisis in the state, and how much more affordable housing would the state need to make a real impact on the homelessness crisis?WILCOX: Housing and homelessness go hand in hand. At Crossroads, we are committed to a housing-first approach to ending homelessness. This means that everyone who comes to us while they are experiencing homelessness will get access to services like rental assistance, workforce training and temporary shelter, all with the goal of finding them permanent homes they can afford.
In a state the size of Rhode Island, the investment needed to make a real impact on the homelessness crisis is not as big as some assume. In fact, we at Crossroads believe that Rhode Island has an opportunity to virtually end the homelessness crisis altogether with the right investments in affordable housing with funds made available through the American Recovery Plan Act.
PBN: The Providence City Council recently introduced a resolution endorsing the “Plan to Address Unsheltered Homelessness Crisis,” calling for 150 additional shelter beds statewide to keep people safe, warm and dry as winter approaches. What’s your reaction to the City Council on this?
WILCOX: Shelters are an important tool in keeping people who are sleeping in unsheltered and unsafe conditions safe before they can secure permanent housing. It’s encouraging to see leaders in Providence and state government putting resources toward keeping people safe, but we all need to remember that shelters are only a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Housing is the solution to homelessness. Until we invest in more housing that people can afford, we are going to keep seeing this cycle repeat and even get worse over time. It’s great that we have more resources to keep people safe tonight, but we must not lose sight of the need to make a long-term investment in housing.
PBN: What’s inside the “Plan to Address Unsheltered Homelessness Crisis”? What are its most important provisions and how long would it take in an ideal scenario to fully address the homelessness crisis?
WILCOX: The plan, which was developed by a coalition of partners and submitted to the governor, outlines a path to make the necessary short-term commitments to keep Rhode Islanders safe today, and address the longer-term housing supply, stability and safety issues facing Rhode Island.
In the immediate term, the coalition asked for an increase in the number of shelter beds this winter, as well as measures to keep shelter guests safe from COVID-19 during their stay. At the same time, the plan calls for American Recovery Plan Act funds to be used to produce, protect and preserve affordable homes throughout the state. In all, the plan would create 1,800 new homes and provide added support for programs that have proven to be effective for ending homelessness.
PBN: What’s your opinion on how the state has been deciding to use its American Rescue Plan Act funds when it comes to alleviating housing insecurity and homelessness in Rhode Island?
WILCOX: It is encouraging to see housing and homelessness being addressed in the initial proposals under the American Rescue Plan Act and if leaders move swiftly and continue to make housing and homelessness a priority, I am optimistic that we will see a big change in the way Rhode Island addresses its growing homelessness crisis.
PBN: For private citizens who want to personally make a difference, how can they best use their time and resources to help ease the homelessness crisis in Rhode Island?
WILCOX: Each year, Crossroads helps hundreds of individuals and families overcome homelessness. Our work would not be possible without the generosity of those in our community. Readers can visit www.crossroadsri.org to subscribe to our e-news and continue to learn about homelessness and the impact of the affordable housing crisis on our community. People can also make a monetary donation to help individuals and families find a place to call home.
Read the the article on Providence Business News here!