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Who needs help finding adequate housing? Why?

The Human Face of Homelessness

 In December 2022, more than 1300 Rhode Islanders are homeless, with at least 500 sleeping outside in tents, cars, or wherever.

We really ought to be able to deal with this better. We're not Los Angeles. In December 2022, the city has 16,000 houseless people and the county has 69,000. The new LA mayor has declared a state of emergency. For perspective, The entire populations of Newport and Woonsocket are about 69,000 people.

Human beings are not machines with interchangeable parts. I'm sure most government employees mean well, but buraeucracies tend to approach problems like homelessness as though people are machinery — call the repair service, get somebody with some tools to fix the problem, done. But each person is unique and there can be multiple reasons why a particular person is unable to find housing.

US Department of Housing and Urban Development has a definition of homelessness. And through a program, Continuum of Care (CoC), HUD is trying to encourage service providers to focus on the persons without stable housing. The basic idea is that teams of service providers work together to find appropriate permanent housing to individuals in particular populations, such as

**The US Interagency Council on Homelessness Strategic Plan, ALL IN, released Dec 19, 2022, p. 25 has a table of key populations and geographic areas.

Also see Rhode Island's 2022 Homeless Populations and Subpopulations (2pp.)

Some states and cities appear to be having some success with CoC. See Approaches to Ending Homelessness.

Factors of each person’s situation require particular specialized services. Once these characteristics are identified for each person/couple/family, there is a greater chance to help each person become self-supporting. This is very personal, sensitive work. Coordinating the service providers is key to solving the homelessness crisis.

And very important: each person should be treated with dignity and kindness. At the end of a video I just watched, a veteran says to a volunteer, “I’m a Viet Nam Vet, honorable discharge…. I’m not used to any affection....”

Here are some websites that explain why people become homeless:


For a glimpse of situations some Rhode Islanders are in, though it is not about homelessness as such, read Michael Morse’s City Life stories from his 23-year experience as an EMT in Providence. An excerpt from Chapter 13 - "No Help Here"

...The man was obviously depressed. He sat on the curb in front of a dilapidated house in South Providence. The house needed to be razed and rebuilt, but there were signs of life there. I asked him if he lived there.

"I wish."

He's been staying in homeless shelters for years, can't keep a job, can't afford the psych meds that could help him, and can't find a reason to go on living....

Morse recently wrote a post about homelessness in RI News Today: The answer to homelessness begins at home.


Summary of Varied Characteristics Unhoused People May Present

Here are characteristics that require particular specialties to actually help individuals, couples, and families (note that any particular situation may involve more than one type of help needed):

    School-aged children (.e.g., transportation to/from school for children experiencing homelessness)
    Young adults (under 25)
        Youth aging out of foster care
        Teenage mothers
        Child abuse victims
    Elders (55+)

    Substance abuse (Alcohol, drugs)

Children involved
    Families with children
    Single women with children (e.g., women experiencing domestic abuse)

    Mental Health
    Other illness
    Physical Disability


Other characteristic:s
    Chronic homelessness
     Just darn bad luck (accidents, huge medical bills, untimely death of breadwinner)
    Urban/rural homelessness
    Domestic abuse
        hard to get a job or keep a job when homeless - no address
        unable to pay rent even though working full time
        high cost of living
        low wages
        decline in public assistance
        money mismanagement
        death of a spouse, loss of income
    Criminal record
    No family or friends
    Refuse temporary shelters previously offered
        Bad experiences in shelters (injury, robbery)
        Can’t bring pets
        Don’t want to/can’t follow rules (there can be valid reasons for this)
            Work evening/night shifts
            Can’t stay during the day
        No place for one’s belongings
    Prefer to live outside
    Lazy/not thinking straight (yes, some people are lazy (including some middle-income and wealthy people, by the way).

Back to A Research Guide on Homelessness in Rhode Island