Providence Police Targeting Homeless Individuals, Advocates Say

Jan 27, 2016

Providence City Hall, from Kennedy Plaza
Credit RIPR FILE

  Advocates for the homeless say Providence Police unfairly target the homeless residents in downtown Providence. In a recent survey of 100 people milling around Kennedy Plaza in the heart of downtown Providence, about half were homeless or had experienced homelessness.

A survey of 100 people in Kennedy plaza found that roughly 95 percent of those who had experienced homelessness had also been ticketed or arrested by police.

Providence College sociologist Eric Hirsch conducted the survey. He says roughly 95 percent of the people who had experienced homelessness had also received a ticket or been arrested by Providence police.

“So extremely disproportionate results; implying that there’s intentional targeting of homeless and formerly homeless people by police for these supposed violations,” said Hirsch.

The infractions included sleeping, loitering, and receiving free food said Hirsch.

“Other places around the country have made these things illegal, so that they can justify their harassment,” said Hirsch. “But they’re all trying to do the same thing, which is to remove homeless people from public spaces.”

A spokesperson from Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office said city police have been directed not to target the homeless population.

The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless is asking for the city to provide day centers for the city’s homeless, as well as a civilian review board, for police oversight.