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.