What is the current state of affairs?
Not easy to describe clearly.... Some observations and questions:
- Increasing numbers of Rhode Islanders cannot find shelter.
- There are not enough places for unhoused Rhode Islanders.
- A few hundred people are living outside or in places not suitable for habitation.
- The state government is at odds with service providers (and/or vice versa).
- At least one mandated state council (Interagency Council on Homelessness) has apparently not met since 2016, and has not submitted annual reports to the General Assembly and governor. Is there a good reason this council ceased meeting? If so, why is this still in the R.I.G.L.? On the other hand, if this council were meeting regularly and communication was established between it and the CoC Board, wouldn't state departments and agencies as well as the General Assembly be better informed about HUD best practices and requirements? Wouldn't the Governor and the General Assembly understand how to support the service providers better if the ICH and CoC Board collaborated?
- The Continuum of Care (CoC) Board (and probably its committees) are subject to the Open Meetings law, but are not submitting agendas and minutes to the Secretary of State's Open Meetings portal apparently. (According to the Governance Charter, p. 5, adopted November 4, 2021, "Notice of Membership Meetings. The Rhode Island Open Meetings Act will govern meetings of the RICOC Membership.) Where are the agendas and minutes? [Answer: The CoC has met jointly with the Housing Resources Commission according to HRC minutes, which are posted in the Open Meetings portal, but how would anyone know this without poking through agendas and minutes?] See the RI government section on the Organizations page.] The CoC Board is not authorized in state law(?), but rather has its governance charter from HUD, so the General Assembly doesn't know about the CoC (?)
- RI Housing is the agency coordinating RI homeless work with HUD. It is the home of the Continuum of Care. How would the CoC relate to the Interagency Council on Homelessness? (See a comparison of membership and responsibilities of the ICH and CoC.)
- RI won a Youth Homelessness Demonstration Grant and produced a plan in March 2022. They also have funds to implement the plan for two years. Perhaps this plan could be a model for updating earlier plans and could be adapted for other unhoused populations (veterans, families, etc.)?
- The RI homelessness plan, Opening Doors Rhode Island, has not been updated since 2012, or the state is using the Consolidated Plan 2015-2019 and the Consolidated Plan 2020-2024 as substitute for updating the 2012 plan(?) The goals of the 2012 plan have not been met(?):
- Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness in 5 years (should have happened by 2017)
- End Veteran homelessness in 5 years (by 2017)
- End homelessness for families and youth in 10 years (by 2022)
- The agency responsible for the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) is the Coalition to End Homelessness.
- It is apparently unclear to state leaders, the press, the general public (and me), i.e., everybody -- or if some leaders do understand, they have a hard time explaining -- how the CES, HMIS, and rehousing should work ideally.
- Some nonprofits are funded by federal and state grants, and others are not. Hard to understand who is funded for what.
- Is emphasis on competition among service providers rather than on coordination and collaboration? HUD does encourage collaboration, but does the funding process encourage competition among providers? It's necessary to break down the silos and collaborate.
- RI state government organization and websites about homelessness are confusing. There's the Interagency Council on Homelessness and an advisory council that apparently haven't met for a few years; the Housing Resources Commission, which has been meeting and apparently has discussed homelessness according to minutes; RI Continuum of Care Board with several committees under RI Housing; the Office of Homelessness and the Consolidated Homelessness Fund; the Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD), and as of Januarty 1, 2023, the Department of Housing (see R.I.G.L. 42-64 and § 42-64.19-3(a)(4)). How do all of these work together? Are they all necessary? And how could state government be better organized?
What is the current system for helping people in need of housing?
This excerpt from the minutes of the last ICH meeting in the Secretary of State's Open Meetings portal gives a simple brief, description of the system as it was in 2016:
"...There are population specific groups to work on goals; Veterans, Chronic, and Families. These groups meet by-weekly and work is done by utilizing a by-name list to prioritize housing by acuity, sharing resources, creating move-on strategies and identifying policy and procedure driven barriers to housing. Challenges and difficulties that have arisen in these committees were then discussed."
It seems the HUD system is at least partially followed.
Quoting from the State of Rhode Island Consolidated Plan 2020-2024 submitted to HUD in July 2020, pp. 156ff:
In 2018, Crossroads Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless partnered to create the Coordinated Entry System, which is a federal mandate that requires the state’s homeless service providers to integrate their efforts to achieve the following goals:
• Make it easier for people to access services
• Identify and prioritize services based on need
• Make sure that people who need help the most, get help first
As part of this effort, Crossroads Rhode Island operates the Coordinated Entry Hotline and all diversion/entry to the shelter system. They provide a range of outreach services to homeless adults as part of its crisis intervention programming and has an outreach van out almost every night. The key to Crossroads RI’s outreach efforts has been in establishing trust with homeless persons on the street in order for them to enter case management and rapid re-housing....
As part of the state’s Housing First policy, it is the goal of Crossroads Rhode Island to help people move out of emergency shelter and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Crossroads oversees five emergency shelters that are low-barrier and housing focused.Diversion and assessment specialists meet with individuals and families to better understand their specific circumstances and housing or service needs. Crossroads uses evidence-informed assessment tools to prioritize clients on factors such as their history of homelessness, physical or mental illness and ability to live independently....
In addition to the RICOC, the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) administers the Consolidated Homeless Fund (CHF), which provides grant funds to units of general local government and non-profit organizations that provide services to the homeless.
Units of general local government and non-profit organizations are encouraged to apply for funding for one or more of the following eligible activities:
• Essential Services Support – for individuals and families who are in an emergency shelter.
• Renovation Costs – including major rehabilitation costs of an emergency shelter or conversion of a building into an emergency shelter. The emergency shelter must be owned by a government entity or private nonprofit organization.
• Shelter Operations – Eligible costs are the costs of maintenance (including minor or routine repairs), rent, security, fuel, equipment, insurance, utilities, food, furnishings, staffing and supplies necessary for the operation of the emergency shelter.
• Rapid Rehousing/State Rental Assistance – CHF funds may be used to provide housing relocation and stabilization services and short and/or medium-term rental assistance as necessary to help a homeless individual or family move as quickly as possible into
permanent housing and achieve stability in that housing.
• HMIS Lead Eligible Costs – CHF funds may be used to pay the costs of continuing data to the HMIS designated by the Continuum of Care for the area, including the costs.
As part of the Rhode Island Coordinated Entry System partnership, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless manages the permanent housing placement of the program, once persons are in a shelter or are living on the street. In permanent supportive housing settings, funded mostly through RICOC programs, residents sign leases, pay rent and care for their own apartments, which is an important first step for homeless households to regain the self-confidence needed to take control over their lives. For more information go to [https://www.rihomeless.org/ces ]....
A note on the CES page, Dec 31, 2022: "In 2018 the Coalition, in partnership with Crossroads RI, created the RI Coordinated Entry System. Initially, the Coalition ran the permanent housing placement end of the system, but in December of 2020 the Coalition took over the CES call center and expanded its availability to 365 days a year.
"CES proudly helps Rhode Islanders in four languages."
The 2020-2024 plan also references Opening Doors Rhode Island, in particular, p. 129, Developing Permanent Supportive Housing: "The state has a goal of producing 548 units of permanent supportive housing in the next ten years, as part of the Opening Doors RI plan. PSH provides subsidized housing and supportive services on a permanent basis to those with chronic disabilities and extremely low incomes." Was this goal met?
The 2015-2019 plan references the Opening Doors Rhode Island 2012 strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness in much greater detail. Has this been updated now that ten years have gone by? Is it still useful? What has been implemented?
There is a standard procedure of putting everyone needing shelter into the "Homeless Management Information System" (HMIS), which provides a way to prioritize people for shelter. The Coalition to End Homelessness has this note on its HMIS page in late December 2022:
The Rhode Island CoC has designated the Coalition as Rhode Island's HMIS Lead, responsible for managing, training, collecting and reporting data into and out of the system. HMIS is responsible for the annual PIT count.
Presently, we have nearly 40 organizations (and growing) and over 200 HMIS users in Rhode Island gathering information on HMIS to better inform policies and the general public alongside aiding in improving our society overall. The data on our HMIS system is private and remains confidential with required client consent to collect information.
But there aren't enough shelter beds right now - people in shelters can't move to the next stage of, for instance, transitional housing because there are not enough of those places either. On December 14, 2022, the governor sent 50 National Guard members to set up a warming station in the Cranston Street Armory for 50 people. (See the News page for articles about the armory.) At the end of December more than 100 people were at the armory, some sleeping on the floor.
*What is each organization doing? - Services, expertise, capacity....
*How exactly are government and nonprofits coordinating to end homelessness?
*What’s not working? WHY?