Over Two Days, Three Different Plans For Downtown Providence

Sep 15, 2016

There have been three press-conferences over the past two days offering competing plans for dealing with homelessness, panhandling, and drug use in downtown Providence. Thursday, the mayor offered his vision.

Issues of homelessness, drug use and panhandling have long existed in the city’s downtown, specifically Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park. The issues have increasingly been in public eye following Mayor Jorge Elorza’s decision not to enforce a panhandling ordinance. The move was applauded by homelessness advocates, and criticized by some members of the downtown business community.

The most prominent feature of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s plan is allocating thousands of dollars for two facilities: a sobering center and a day center with support services for people looking for work and housing.

“Individuals who are homeless and panhandling do not represent a single group that requires a single solution,” said Elorza during a press conference. “This complexity requires many different strategies.”

The city will maintain an increased police presence in the area. And Elorza said he will consider a new ordinance that would criminalize passing goods – including money – from a car to the street.

“I’m committed to maintaining the public safety presence, as your safety is my top priority,” said Elorza during a press conference. “The work of law enforcement is critically important, however, it is only a small piece of the work that must be done.”

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the Downtown Improvement District offered different ideas on how to address these issues. The DID recommendations included offer medical and social services similar to the Mayor’s plan, but included enforcing panhandling ordinances, addressing people lying and sitting on sidewalks, as well as the eventual removal of bus hubs in Kennedy Plaza.

Housing and transportation advocates criticized the recommendations, saying they violated the rights of the poor and the homeless, as well as those in relying on public transportation.