A battle is taking place over the future Providence’s homeless population. The city through the Downtown Improvement District (DID) had called together various government agencies, law enforcement bodies, non-profits, local businesses and religious groups to discuss Kennedy Plaza and how to improve the area. Nearly a month later, however, various groups that advocate for the homeless are walking away from the table, claiming that the real agenda was the removal of homeless and poor people from the downtown area.
The DID plans call for increased police presence to address issues such as panhandling, congregating and trespassing. They also call for increased surveillance in the area by calling on police to monitor cameras in the Plaza, as well as creating a network of cameras, radios and land lines to enable efficient reporting to Providence Police.
On Wednesday, in front of Paolino Properties and other local businesses in Kennedy Plaza, members of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, Homeless Bill of Rights Defense Group and Direct Action for Rights and Equality announced their opposition to Paolino’s proposals and offered their own vision of a transformed Kennedy Plaza. Their plans called for increased community and economic development and supporting social and human services needs. The homeless advocate groups also spoke out against the criminalization of homelessness.
“Criminalization is not a solution to homelessness,” added Roger Williams University School of Law Professor and Assistant Dean Andrew Horwitz. “It is incredibly cruel to those experiencing homelessness, dehumanizing the individuals and making it harder to connect to advocates and services. It also costs the system more by spending taxpayer dollars on court costs and incarcerations rather than on housing, medical care, and other long-term solutions.”
The Catholic church is also weighing in, with Bishop Thomas Tobin writing in the Providence Journal that he supports the city in their work to stop people from panhandling. “There is nothing dignified about standing on street corners, or venturing into the middle of the street, dressed in dirty, shabby clothes, in all sorts of weather, with a crude cardboard sign, begging passersby for help.”
On Thursday, Mayor Jorge Elorza announced his plans to increase support and investments to make Providence a “safe and compassionate city.”
The mayor acknowledged the issues the city faces in a press conference in which he was surrounded by community members. “The issues we are addressing today are not unique to Providence. They are complex and multifaceted, but by coming together as community, we have the opportunity to make lasting change.”