In Providence, R.I., protesters have been sleeping in tents in front of the State House since Nov. 30.
State Senator Cynthia Mendes, who called the demonstration, put its purpose plainly: “I’m out here because the state of Rhode Island has decided for yet another winter that some people should freeze to death.”
“The city has plenty of properties,” said Terri Wright, an organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality. “Why are folks still sleeping outdoors? Why is there a process to get into a hotel bed?”
“I believe we are in a state of emergency,” she added. “We have a triple crisis going on: the eviction crisis, the homeless crisis and now the unsheltered crisis.” Wright pointed out that many people were ending up homeless because they had an eviction on public record, which means landlords won’t rent to them.
The protest has drawn local media coverage and community members have been dropping off food and supplies. It includes people who are currently or formerly unhoused, advocates for the homeless, housing organizers, and other concerned residents. Every day, the encampment hosts a community meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. to offer people a chance to get to know one another, organize and tell their stories. Each have their reasons to fight.
Michelle Saint Pierre, who organizes direct aid with Wide Awake Providence, was out at the encampment on Dec. 3. Her son Shane, who was kicked out of a shelter that day, also joined. “They should be using the whole $1.1 billion [emergency fund] to open up these places where it needs to be, instead of just sitting on it,” he said.
Saint Pierre said the governor “should be out there, putting all these people up in hotels, or whatever he has to do.”
“My opinion,” she added, “he should be doing something with all these abandoned buildings, like the old Urban League. He should be making use out of that, making that another shelter, like it was back in the day when I was homeless.”
Several protesters stated that it would only take 1% of the $1.1 billion emergency fund to provide hotel rooms for all those currently sleeping outdoors.
Nithin Paul, a family medicine physician who has slept out since Dec. 2, is advocating for his unhoused patients.
“There’s a lot of mental health trauma every day, and then the body takes a toll. I have patients who have arthritis, who literally cannot walk, who have broken their body down from sleeping on hard ground, and they now need surgeries and they can’t access surgery because surgery needs you to be able to rehab well. And if you’re living unhoused, the surgeon’s gonna say, ‘Well, I don’t think you can rehab well. So sorry, you can’t get the surgery that I would have otherwise given you.’”
Mendes argued that action should have come weeks ago. Delays, she says, are due to politicians’ greed, apathy, and lack of accountability. “They lack a sense of justice and compassion and what human dignity actually looks like,” she told Liberation News. “And that’s why I firmly believe that they don’t belong in office.”
Cancel The Rents Rhode Island organizers brought in warm food as support on the fifth night. Andira Ture of CTR RI said, “Nearly 4,000 evictions have been set in motion, so the crisis of homelessness is only going to further exacerbate.”
The encampment protesters are determined to be active, taking the route of direct action. On the third day of the sleep out, some 50 people disrupted the governor’s tree lighting ceremony on the other side of the capitol building, demanding safe housing for all. One of the protestors, Monica Huertas, asked, “Hundreds of people are sleeping on the streets tonight. What would Jesus do?”
Currently, there are a dozen tents in front of the State House. Now, planning their next steps, protesters are determined to hold their ground. “We’ll be out here until every Rhode Islander that is unsheltered gets shelter,” said Wright.
“They’ve shown us who they are. Now we have to show them who we are,” Mendes said. “That’s the reason to gather; that’s the reason to organize under this banner.
”As a woman of color, having to put my body on the line to demonstrate is what we do. Cori Bush did it. Rosa Parks did it. They’ve left me no choice.”