With our holiday decorations safely stored away for another year, we’ve settled in for the winter and returned to our routines of work, school and hobbies. It already seems like so long ago that we were caught up in the frenzy of holiday shopping and parties while wishing good cheer to all for the New Year to come.
The holidays are also a time of renewed emphasis on those experiencing homelessness and the underserved populations in our communities – from coat and toy drives to donations of canned goods, turkeys and money. As the executive director of House of Hope Community Development Corporation, a social service agency that assists those experiencing homelessness throughout Rhode Island, I can attest firsthand to the generosity of Rhode Islanders when it comes to helping others. Individuals, businesses and religious congregations provide agencies like ours with a much-needed boost during this time of year. Your donations truly help us change lives.
Yet when the holiday season ends, many of us often forget about those who are most in need. Agencies like ours are continuing the hard, yet extremely rewarding work of helping for those who struggle with the most basic of needs like a warm meal or a safe place to sleep.
Right here in Rhode Island, the number of people – of all ages and races – who are experiencing homelessness at any point in time are staggering. In 2019, the annual Point-in-Time count found 1,005 people were facing homelessness on any given night in Rhode Island; this translates to upwards of 5,000 Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness throughout the year.
While these numbers may seem extraordinary, they’re no surprise to our street-based outreach team. Each day, both morning and at night, regardless of weather, our team is making contact with people who have no place to call home – and in fact, knows by name, 86 people in Providence sleeping in cars, stairwells, tents, and highway underpasses, even on the most frigid of nights. An issue not exclusive to the urban core, just as many call the campgrounds of South County, river banks of Woonsocket, and alleyways of Aquidneck Island home. We, at House of Hope CDC, find this unjust and unacceptable.
Solving homelessness is not simply about removing a family or individual from the street. We must simultaneously pathways to support those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity – including developing a permanent funding stream for affordable housing, increasing the minimum wage, and banning source of income discrimination. These changes will help us turn the tide and get closer to our vision of a state where no man, woman, or child is housing, food, or financially insecure.
Until these changes become reality, we continue to do “loud work, quietly”. This includes our Shower to Empower mobile unit, which provides showers, haircuts and medical navigation services to those in need. But most importantly, it provides the necessary case management to help people get into housing, which is at the heart of everything we do here at House of Hope CDC.
The “Spirt of the Season” does not have to go away just because we’ve turned a page on the calendar. We urge you to remember those who remain vulnerable all year long and do what you can to support agencies like ours striving to end homelessness. We implore all Rhode Islanders to stand alongside us in our belief that everyone lives in a warm, safe and affordable home of their own, and to be the first state that makes homelessness a thing of the past.
Laura Jaworski, MSW is the Executive Director for House of Hope Community Development Corporation. To learn more about House of Hope Community Development Corporation and any of the services they provide, visit www.thehouseofhopecdc.org or call 401-463-3324.