Delivery of Care

The fire next time

Community agencies, upset by what they are say is a lack of action on homelessness, threaten to upend the status quo

Photo by Richard ?Asinof/File photo

Gov. Dan McKee at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the new health care facility in Olneyville by Providence Community Health Centers.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 4/25/22
Frustration is growing about the inaction on homelessness following a stakeholder meeting held in March, convened by the Rhode Island Foundation.
Will the R.I. General Assembly be willing to increase the Medicaid rates paid to providers, considered a linchpin in addressing the ongoing crises in the health care workforce, the lack of access to mental health and behavioral health services, and homelessness prevention? Which candidates running for political office will address the large number of Rhode Islanders receiving health care through Medicaid – more than one-third of the state’s residents?
In today’s edition of ConvergenceRI, it featured an interview with the new director of the R.I. Medicaid office, Kristin Sousa, who reported that as of March 31, 2022, there were approximately 397,977 residents of Rhode Island receiving their health care through Medicaid.
Translated, that means that more than 38 percent of Rhode Island’s population is living at or below 120 percent of the federal poverty level, which for a four-person family is $36,907.50.
Any of the economic projections about Rhode Island’s future prosperity, it seems, should be viewed through the filter that one-third of Rhode Island’s population is living on the edge when it comes to health care, housing, and economic opportunity.

PROVIDENCE – No one yet is planning to pitch tents again in front of the State House. But frustrations are starting to boil over, driven by apparent lack of action by Gov. Dan McKee and his administration to address the growing homelessness crisis in Rhode Island.

Investments in “affordable housing” have been front-and-center in public appearances for the Governor, including a State House news conference to announce plans to breathe new life into the “Superman” building, the now vacant Industrial Trust office building, transforming it into a residential enterprise. And, on Monday morning, April 25, the Governor is scheduled to join the ceremonial groundbreaking in the development of 79 new rental homes in Providence, a project underwritten by RI Housing.

But there are rumblings on the homelessness front, according to a number of sources.

Here is what is known:

• In March, Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, convened a meeting of “stakeholders” to address the needs of the “unhoused.”

The stakeholder meeting was attended by representatives of government, businesses, and nonprofit human service providers, to engage in discussions about finding potential solutions, according to participants. The stakeholder gathering had followed the formula often deployed by the Rhode Island Foundation, in previous efforts to reach consensus around future long-term plans for public education, health care, and the best ways for the state to invest $1.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act federal funds. [The Rhode Island Foundation had also recently sponsored a stakeholder gathering to address the health care workforce crisis.]

Steinberg had expressed his hope that the stakeholder meeting would serve as an opportunity to overcome the cultural, bureaucratic, and political impediments preventing tangible action on the homelessness crisis, according to participants.

• Two themes were said to have emerged during the stakeholder session: the first was a lack of urgency in understanding that the population agencies are dealing with was “fragile” and often compromised by complex health care conditions, including addiction, substance use, and serious mental illness, according to participants. The clients often lacked access to consistent medical care, putting their lives at risk.

The second theme that emerged at the stakeholder session was said to have been an ongoing complaint about “the lack of political will and engagement by state government.”

Since the stakeholder meeting occurred in March, many participants who attended, particularly those from community agencies, are said to be growing “more than frustrated” that there has not yet been any follow-up.

• A three-page letter was sent to Gov. Dan McKee on April 19, expressing the hope that he will take action, because there was “no time to waste.”

“The providers in particular attending this event are more than frustrated at the lack of political will and leadership to address this problem,” the letter stated.

The letter continued, saying that the efforts to address the homelessness crisis are “often piecemeal and disconnected from the reality that individuals and families” face.

Public and private conversations
With the upcoming annual meeting of the Rhode Island Foundation scheduled for Thursday, May 12, at the Rhode Island Convention Center, the lack of success so far in creating movement toward finding a stakeholder solution to the homelessness crisis in Rhode Island may not be at the top of the conversation list.

At the annual meeting, among the honorees will be Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the former director of the R.I. Department of Health, in one of her first public appearances since she departed her job in January. Dr. Alexander-Scott will be receiving the “Public Service Award.”

The Foundation’s annual meeting, the first in-person annual meeting in three years, will have a definite health care flavor to it – in addition to Dr. Alexander-Scott, Jane Hayward will receive the Community Leadership Award, and Dr. G. Alan Kurose, MD, MBA, FACP, and chair of the Board of Directors at the Rhode Island Foundation, will be speaking.

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Alexander-Scott is also scheduled to be a speaker at the University of Rhode Island on Wednesday afternoon, April 27, in a conversation entitled, “Who’s at the table?”]

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