PAWTUCKET – The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless issued Rhode Island a grade of C+ for its progress on the Opening Doors Rhode Island Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
The report card, issued at the quarterly meeting Thursday of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, concluded that while the state has made strides toward improving the lives of Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, it must shift the focus from short-term crisis responses, like shelters, to the long-term solution of affordable housing.
“Opening Doors RI is an ambitious but realistic plan to address the very serious issue of homelessness in our state,” said Jim Ryczek, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “The plan, however, is only as good as its implementation, which is why we did the report card, to get an assessment of how we are all doing on making the important transition from ‘sheltering’ those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness to ‘housing’ them.”
Providing access to permanent affordable housing for very low-income households – a principal goal of Opening Doors Rhode Island – received a score of C- in the report, but the coalition acknowledged that the affordable housing situation is improving. Since the start of the initiative, Rhode Island has provided $750,000 in funding for rental vouchers, passed the Housing Bond and improved partnerships with public housing authorities.
Other major goals of Opening Doors RI include retooling the homeless crisis response system (B+), increasing economic security (B-), improving health and housing stability (C+) and developing leadership and civic engagement (C).
Of these goals, most continue to improve, but the initiative to increase economic security was designated as “stalled” in the coalition’s report. Although the state has successfully raised the minimum wage and streamlined access to mainstream benefits, Rhode Island must still work to close the gap between incomes and housing costs and provide more job opportunities for the homeless.
To address the shortcomings highlighted in the report, the Coalition for the Homeless recommended that the governor’s office provide for $3.4 million in rental assistance funding in the state budget, increase funding for homeless prevention and assistance by $439,000, and take better advantage of federal funding opportunities like Medicaid expansion and grant-funded programs.
“We can do better,” said Ryzcek. “Slightly above average may be acceptable for a math test or school project, but Opening Doors RI is dealing with people’s lives and, given that, we feel we should strive for nothing less than an A+. Our state is positioned to make huge strides in addressing homelessness but at the end of the day financial investments are needed to actualize the goals in the plan.”
The Opening Doors Rhode Island initiative launched in April 2012 aiming to end chronic homelessness in the state by 2018, and dramatically reduce all forms of homelessness by 2023.