Dear Constituents & Friends:
Clearly, this has been a tough year…
Rhode Island’s shelters remain full and we continue to struggle to accommodate the influx of men, women, and children entering our system. Winter presents an added burden for constituents and social service providers alike. The state and federal governments’ response to the homeless crisis has resulted in fewer affordable housing options to meet the growing need.
We have all had to do more with fewer resources. Yet, in spite of this challenge…we have.
Somehow, our system has continued to stretch, flex, and bend to meet the need. However, this is certainly not a sustainable situation and we are working diligently to turn the tide. To move forward we have one simple message: Rhode Island MUST fundamentally change the way we respond to homelessness!
We continue to believe that through our work to promote effective advocacy, community organizing, community mobilization, targeted direct services, and an integrated communications strategy, we will build a movement upon our successes and lessons learned from our failures, that will lead our state to adopt the common value that safe, affordable housing is a right for everyone.
Building a movement to end homelessness in Rhode Island will take time, energy, resources, and expertise. We continue to look to you - our constituents, members, allies, funders, and supporters - to help us in the year to come. As a coalition, we depend on you as our partners to become more than the sum of our parts.
Thank you again for your help as we move toward a vision of Rhode Island where no man, woman, or child is homeless.
Advocacy and Systems Change
We are working to move the dial on the issue of affordable housing and homeless prevention in our state by implementing an integrated model of advocacy that includes community organizing, constituent engagement, advocacy in both legislative and administrative settings, and strategic communications. Our belief is that no single method can move the issue, but that using an integrated approach we will be successful. In essence, we are working to build a movement to end homelessness in our state.
This past year, our hope was to turn the public concern for those who are homeless into a political victory at the State House that included funding for the Neighborhood Opportunities Program (NOP) and a dedicated funding stream that would ensure yearly support for affordable housing. Unfortunately, the legislators only funded NOP at $1.5 million by mandating Rhode Island Housing to pay for it, and did not pass a dedicated funding stream.
While this year’s session was discouraging, we believe that now, more than ever we need to collaborate and unite our efforts to advocate for programs and services for those who are homeless here in our state. We have to stand united and fight for the programs we know make a difference and serve our clients. We must continue to promote programs like Housing First that provide better outcomes for our clients, move those who are homeless into housing and save the state money to the tune of almost $8,000 per person.
Our role is to provide the vision and the roadmap for getting there. We know how to end chronic homelessness, and in a time of fiscal crisis it is even more important to be bold, organize our constituents, providers, and allies to fight to advance a plan that moves people from homelessness into housing.
At the heart of our work is the voice of those most affected, those who are currently or formerly homeless. We believe a key component of our work is to deepen the engagement and influence of these constituents within and across our movement. We have hired a Constituent Organizer who works full-time organizing and mobilizing our constituents.
One of the key projects of our constituent work is the Voices of Homelessness Speakers Bureau highlighted in this Annual Report. Another key project is the Community Advisory Committee, which is comprised of homeless and formerly homeless constituents who serve to advise us on our programs, policies, advocacy, legislation, and organizing efforts. Other projects include the Homeless Legal Clinic, Street Rights project, Constituent Speak-Outs and the Constituent Theater Group.
We also work closely with the RI Homeless Advocacy Project and Street Sights to ensure that the voices of those most impacted by homelessness are heard at all levels of decision making on the local, state and national level.
Our goal is to integrate constituents into our day-to-day work. We want constituents involved in decision making at all levels of the organization – from the Board right down to our various work committees.
Capacity Building & Training
Service agencies across Rhode Island are expected to do more and more these days with fewer staff and fewer resources. We believe that by providing the latest trainings on best practices, supplying capacity building resources, and promoting collaboration among our service organizations, we can increase and strengthen our coalition’s ability to serve the homeless in Rhode Island.
The trainings and resources we provide are based on research of nationally tested best practices and the expressed need from our service agencies. All our trainings and resource are offered free or at low cost and are delivered by national and local experts.
Our training topics this year included best practices in case management, strategic communications, technology, organizational development, and use of the Homeless Management Information System. This year we also provided fact sheets, a homeless legal clinic, Street Sheets Resource Guides, Street Rights Cards, and the Rhode Island Shelter Guide.
We continue to work to connect the dots and ensure strategic connections between state agencies and nonprofit organizations. We work to find places where providers - from homeless services, veterans services, domestic violence, mental health, child welfare, and corrections fields - intersect in serving our clients and encourage communication and collaboration.
Service and Housing Provider Network
The Shelter & Housing Provider Network (SHPN) is a group of case managers and other direct service staff who work with those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless. The network exists for these front-line staff to gain information and resources and to network and develop working relationships with one another. Monthly meetings feature guest speakers who share information about their organization or programs, as well as a general discussion for problem solving and sharing resources.
Over the past year the network has grown to include 45 participating programs and an average of 30 providers attending each meeting.
Over the coming year SHPN will expand to provide an online forum for this community to share resources, gain support, and problem solve.
We are working to shift the way Rhode Islanders think about homelessness. Our goal is to raise public awareness about the causes of homelessness, the widespread lack of affordable housing, and the scale of the homeless crisis. We work to show the diversity of the homeless experience and the proven success of investing in homeless prevention programs. We believe that an informed and engaged public can pressure our politicians and decision-makers to ensure all Rhode Islanders have access to safe affordable housing.
Our main avenue for raising public awareness is through the media. We work with journalists and other members of the media to inform them on the issues, provide accurate and timely data and connect them with stories from our member agencies and constituents. We proactively pitch stories, hold press conferences, and provide ongoing responses to news related to the homeless.
In addition to our media work, we publish online videos, factsheets, infographics, and newsletters. Our staff and Speakers Bureau also travel the state speaking directly to students and civic groups.
Voices of Homelessness Speakers Bureau
Who are the homeless? How does someone become homeless? What is their story?
Many caring Rhode Islanders know little about homelessness in Rhode Island and rarely have met someone who has experienced homelessness. The Voices of Homelessness Speakers Bureau is a group of homeless and formerly homeless individuals who are working to put a face to homelessness in Rhode Island.
These volunteers share their stories to educate the public and increase awareness about homelessness, to dispel stereotypes, and to be a voice for compassion and change. The Speakers Bureau travels the state, speaking to students, religious and professional groups and others about their lives and their experiences with homelessness. They explain their struggles, challenges, and achievements. They tell the story of how they’ve come to be where they are and their dreams of where they are going.
These stories have proven to be a powerful tool in the effort to raise awareness and engage Rhode Islanders in the fight for more affordable housing. This year, our speakers have presented at 72 engagements across New England.