Published December 19. 2012 3:00PM Updated December 19. 2012 3:51PM
Providence, R.I. (AP) — The state's emergency shelter system is beyond the "tipping point," the head of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless said Wednesday, and advocates are asking officials to address a shortfall of several hundred beds as winter is set to officially begin.
The coalition said a statewide count done one night last week found more than 150 individuals sleeping outside, though the group suspects the actual number is higher. The total number of homeless, including those in shelters, on that night was nearly 1,000. Last year's count found 850.
"We feared that last week's count would be worse than we've seen," Jim Ryczek, the coalition's executive director, said. But, he added, "Even the scope of the problem has surprised us."
Advocates say more than 400 additional beds are needed to meet the demand for this winter season. Ryczek said that will cost at least $50,000, but probably more. Homeless advocates are also seeking a long-term solution that would see individuals get shelter through the use of apartment vouchers.
The coalition held a news conference on Wednesday in Cranston at Harrington Hall, a shelter for men, to release the statistics.
Ryczek said later that advocates have long said the state's shelter system would reach its breaking point.
"I have no joy in saying 'I told you so,' but we have been warning that this would be happening," he said. Of state officials, he said: "They need to answer the question about why so little is being done."
A representative of Gov. Lincoln Chafee did not immediately respond to a message left for comment.
More than 4,400 people in Rhode Island experienced homelessness at some point last year, according to the coalition. A homelessness prevention plan adopted by the state earlier this year would completely upend the way its homeless population is served, emphasizing long-term housing over temporary shelters. The plan would cost an estimated $130 million; it's not clear where most of the money to implement it would come from.