They can’t or won’t live in homeless shelters and that’s one reason local tent cities are expanding. One even has its own government and this week John Villella and I will take you inside these local ‘communities’.
In Providence, it’s called Hope City which is somewhat sheltered under the Crawford Street Bridge.
“This was set up as 98% percent need and 2% protest,” Barbara Ferrara tells us.
She serves as the treasurer in Hope City’s fledgling ‘government’.
In the shadows of Woonsocket’s River United Methodist, it’s about protection.
“Tents have been set on fire while they’re actually sleeping in the tent,” the Reverend Brian Souza tells us.
He says the homeless were safer near his church.
“We’ve had several who have been beat up. We had one gentleman who’s no longer with us. He died on the streets 2 years ago but kids used to throw rocks at him.”
A Providence homeless advocate who did not want to talk on camera tells us many of the tent city homeless either won’t or can’t follow shelter rules.
“Sometimes yes,” Barbara tells us. “And sometimes no.”
Shelter rules touch on criminal records, drug use, religion. . .
“And forcing religion on someone seems very wrong.”
But she admits rule number one in Hope City is that you must have been barred, not allowed to live in any local shelters. That’s what sent some homeless to set up a second tent city across the Providence River. The people who live there could live in shelters but choose not to.
Barbara used to live in abandoned homes that she calls, ‘abandominiums’
“Abandomiums,” she repeats with a craggy laugh. “See. Homeless people can be funny.”
“It’s funny but it’s sad,” I tell her.
“It is. I lived literally two streets from the mayor. He never knew I was there”
About 20 live in Hope City now and during the last 3 months, about a dozen were helped by leaders of that community to move off the streets.
“Into homes. Into jobs. Into jobs and homes.”
I tell Barbara that Hope City sounds like a shelter without the shelter.
“We are. We are a shelter that runs without grants. Without funds.”
In Woonsocket, River United tried to keep the tents pitched.
“To work out whatever variances need to be done.”
“A variance for what?” I asked Reverend Souza, pointing out that the tents are on church property.
“I’m not sure,” he says. “I never saw a citation.”
The church-side tents eventually came down and in Providence they know the rusty Crawford Street Bridge is coming down next year.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
“We have a few places.”
Meanwhile, River United Methodist is handing out 50 or so more tents and there’s a waiting list for even more for people who will pitch them somewhere out there in Woonsocket.
Take a look at the video version of this story by clicking on this link.
Let us know what you think and please keep the ideas flowing.