Activists Erect Tent City in Rhode Island

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Tents are erected in Providence to help illustrate homeless plight
By Tatiana Pina, Providence Journal
PROVIDENCE — Underneath the Crawford Street Bridge, where a numbing wind blows off the Providence River, broken pieces of concrete are placed in the shape of a large cross.

That’s where 56-year-old Paul Langlais was found dead Jan. 2 after a night of bitter cold. He was homeless and occasionally slept there, according to people who knew him.

John Joyce, a member of the Homeless People’s Action Committee, points to a clean white sheet strewn among blankets and clothing that he says covered Langlais while the medical examiner came to determine how he died. This is where volunteers from HPAC decided to erect a tent city yesterday.

As temperatures dipped into the low 20s and were expected to plunge into single digits, Joyce said volunteers were trying to prevent another death.

“We want to get people into one area in the city so everybody is not spread out and we can watch each other,” he said. He points to the frozen ground and debris under the bridge. “As you can see this is not the best place in the world to die.”

The group wants a tent city to draw attention to the acute and long-term problem of homelessness.

“The city and the state has a responsibility to its citizens. Homelessness is a solvable problem. It’s called affordable housing,” Joyce said. HPAC is a grassroots organization made up of volunteers who are homeless or formerly homeless and other supporters.

Joyce said the state’s financial crisis and foreclosures have increased the numbers of homeless people. “It’s not just men anymore, you can see entire families at the soup kitchens,” he said.

Volunteers brought a large 10-person tent and two smaller tents that could fit two people each. As the sun started to set and an icy wind blew stronger, they began to erect the tents under the bridge on Eddy Street, not far from District Court, Rhode Island School of Design and the downtown.

To survive a bone-chilling night, it’s important to line the frozen ground with a lot of blankets, Joyce said. “That will keep the ground from getting into you. Then you put on your hat and you put on your gloves,” he said. Joyce had on a heavy coat, gloves and thick boots. He said he was also wearing long johns.

As of yesterday evening mostly volunteers were setting up the tent city, but Stephen Pond, 21, who said he had been living on the streets, decided to come after he overheard people talking about it. Pond was helping to place the rods that hold up the tents and trying to steady the tent in the wind. He said he had been in the foster-care system since he was 2 and found himself homeless after he was released from foster care.

Judy McGill, 42, a volunteer with HPAC, was putting one of the smaller tents together. Originally from Warwick, she became homeless after her parents died. She said she lived on the streets for five years with her husband. She said she receives disability payments, and is on a waiting list to get an apartment. Yesterday, she took the bus in from Woonsocket, where she is staying with her daughter.

At 10 p.m. Joyce and Megan Smith, a Brown student who works with a student program called Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, planned to go to places where homeless people are known to sleep and tell them there’s a place where they can stay with others and be safe.

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5 responses »

  1. Hi, I live in R.I. and am going through an economic crisis myself. My home is located in a nice suburb of R.I. and foreclosure was postponed, came real close. I will try to do a loan modification with the bank soon though. Well, my home is quite large and there are people living on the street. I am willing to take in maybe three people to start so they have a place to stay, for how long, I do not know, it depends on the banks decision. Also, town rules and regulations may have an affect here on people staying in somebodys home. I would like to start helping and if you know of a nice family who needs a home in Barrington to keep them warm for a while, there are three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. The home could probably fit about 30 people in total but the town would definitely have a fit . I have very limited funds, so I do not think I could feed them all. It is time that I start helping others and give some shelter from the storm, as much as I can. Please e-mail if you want, Thank-you, Brian.

  2. I’m extremely confused. I drove by last weekend and saw this Tent City and I’m doing research on this because I was planning on starting a fundraiser/drive at my high school and church, however I think I’m under the wrong impression. Is this a protest against the government, or are the people who live in this Tent City truly homeless and have no place to go?

  3. I can’t speak about this particular tent city. The only info I have is online articles.
    However, tent cities are often both protests and places for people with nowhere to go.
    It sounds like aside from homeless people, they also have housed allies there with them trying to raise awareness.
    The best thing to do is park your car and go talk to people there. Good chance they will be very friendly,

  4. We need the State to focus more on humanity rather than money in this dire time. Many people are finding themselves in unfortunate situations due to the Governments decisions so it is only right they now open their grounds and support for more of these FREE tent city programs. I feel portions of state parks should be open to sober residents and families who have no where else to turn. As unemployment rises and people begin getting cut from unemployment compensation runs dry toppling on the foreclosures growth we will only see more misplaced humans. Just because the economy has not affected you personally yet don’t fool yourself into believing that the future won’t turn on you very soon. Its time we build a better humanity for all and stop with the greed bullshit that has put us in the US into this situation!

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