Advocates: Providence should do more for homeless

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Advocates for the homeless are calling on the Elorza administration to step up its support for the homeless, in part by cracking down on police they believe have unfairly targeted people loitering in downtown.

In a press conference in front of the mayor’s office on the second floor in City Hall Tuesday, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless demanded the city restore the Providence External Review Authority (PERA), a committee designed to provide civilian oversight over the police.

The advocates have also asked the city to require police to receiving training on the homeless bill of rights, a 2012 state law designed to ensure no one is discriminated against based on their housing status. The coalition also said it would like the city to set up a day center for the homeless.

“Homelessness is the result of society’s troubles,” Kate Miechkowski, an outreach worker for the House of Hope Community Development Corporation, said during the press conference.

The advocates released a survey conducted by students at Providence College that found homeless people were disproportionately cited or arrested for public nuisance crimes in downtown Providence compared with non-homeless people.

Homeless or not, the majority of the 100 people surveyed said they had not been threatened with arrest if they didn’t leave a particular area or had their belongings searched without permission by police within the past year, but nearly everyone who said they were arrested or cited by police were homeless.

For their part, officials in the administration say they are doing everything they can to support the homeless.

Evan England, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city has set aside funds in the budget for the homeless, held multiple meetings with advocates and discussed policies with Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements.

“The mayor is committed to working with our service providers, advocates and community partners to address the social and economic challenges these resident face,” England said. “We have spoken to the chief of police and he has directed his officers not to target those who are struggling with homelessness.

Karen Santilli, the CEO for Crossroad Rhode Island, state’s largest homeless shelter, said she has found Elorza’s office and the police department “very willing and open to working with us.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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