On a cold, windy winter’s day in late January more than 1,000 Rhode Islanders, including children and families, are living outside, in cars, or in emergency shelters, many of which are at capacity.

That’s the findings from a somewhat flawed point in time count of the homeless, a once every other year exercise undertaken by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in each state. The findings are used in determining grants for homeless programs.

The real number of homeless is estimated by several sources as anywhere from two and a half to 10 times what this point in time count finds.

The figures, which were recently released for Rhode Island, saw a slight decline from 1,101 in 2018 to 1,055 homeless this year, a drop of 46. However, those numbers, as reported by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, also show a rise in those living in conditions categorized as “unsheltered,” from 51 last year to 71 this year.

What those numbers don’t include are Rhode Islanders who are doubling up, those who are “couch surfing,” or those staying with relatives or friends, according to the Coalition. In any given year, the Coalition, says there are more than 3,300 Rhode Islanders who experience homelessness at some time during the year, including 721 families.

On this given day, Jan. 23, the HUD count found 730 single adults and 325 “persons in families,” who were characterized as homeless. The count was conducted by volunteers throughout the state.

As shelters bulge during the winter, they explode in summer as the school year approaches. Families that have found temporary shelter in campgrounds are in search of addresses they can call home so they can register their children in school, says Russ Partridge, executive director of Westerly’s Warm Center.

Even so, Kids Count reports more than 1,000 Rhode Island school children who are considered homeless by school systems around the state.

Homelessness remains a major problem in Rhode Island, says Partridge, and a much bigger one than HUD reports, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

“Each year the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) releases an annual Point in Time (PIT) count of the homeless population in this country,” says a Law Center study that also says numerous studies show homelessness to be 2.5 to 10 times greater than reported in the PIT study.  

“Unfortunately, the methods used by HUD to conduct the PIT counts produce a significant undercount of the homeless population at a given point in time,” the Center says. “In addition, regardless of their methodology or execution, point in time counts fail to account for the transitory nature of homelessness and thus present a misleading picture of the crisis.”

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.