By Rhode Island General Assembly
On the day after Thanksgiving each year, the State House lawn becomes the site of the “Buy Nothing Day” exchange, during which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of donated coats, blankets, hats, gloves and other items are available to anyone in need.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancelation of this year’s event, even while it has also pushed more Rhode Islanders toward economic hardship.
Stepping up to fill the need, the Rhode Island Senate and housing advocates are teaming up to collect coats and other warm essentials at the State House. Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 24, and running through Dec. 4, anyone with clean, new or gently used coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots or blankets is asked to bring them to the State House Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Socks will also be collected, but must be new. Donations will be accepted at the legislators’ entrance located at the back of the upper parking lot on Smith Street, and those donating will be allowed to drive into the lot, which is typically closed to the public.
Monetary donations can be made at www.rihomeless.org/winter-coat-gear-drive.
Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) is coordinating the drive on behalf of the Senate. The effort grew out of a recent virtual meeting among housing advocates, including Senator Euer, about a dedicated funding stream for housing in the state budget and a $310.5 million housing and infrastructure bond, both of which have yet to be approved, having been delayed as a result of the pandemic. The advocates at the meeting discussed how the cancelation of Buy Nothing Day would deeply affect those in need, and the conversation turned toward making alternative plans to ensure that coats would still be available this year.
“We are now in a crisis with this pandemic. The needs are even higher this year, and we have fewer resources to help. We’ve lost shelter beds. There are no shelters now in Pawtucket and Central Falls. People desperately need help, and it’s harder than ever to get it,” said Diamond Madsen, who has been a major force behind the drive and who was once homeless herself. “It’s still going to be cold, and people are still going to need warm coats, boots and blankets. I hope everyone who can will donate whatever they can, because the needs are high.”
The items collected will be distributed to homeless individuals by advocates including Madsen and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, which is headquartered in Pawtucket.
While the coat drive will address an acute need temporarily, Senator Euer and the advocates involved urged more long-term solutions, such as the passage of the proposed housing bond, and the inclusion of a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, which is proposed in the 2021 state budget that remains pending.
“While the pandemic has made our housing crisis even worse, the fact is we have a housing crisis because housing is simply unaffordable in Rhode Island at the best of times. Housing has been shown to be the most efficient and effective step toward addressing a wide variety of social issues. Our state needs to make affordable housing development a permanent priority, so we have fewer people out in the cold in need of coats and blankets this time of year,” said Senator Euer.
Kristina Contreras Fox, senior policy analyst at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, agreed that the pandemic has exacerbated immediate and long-term needs that could be addressed if there were more affordable housing available.
“Rhode Island already had a housing crisis before the pandemic hit. If we want to see this change fundamentally, Rhode Island must invest in creating more safe, secure, affordable housing,” said Contreras Fox. “Housing ends homelessness.”
Said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), “We in the Senate recognize the importance of creating more affordable housing in Rhode Island. We support the housing bond and ask our fellow Rhode Islanders to approve it when it goes before them on the ballot. The pandemic has made it even harder for those already struggling to stay warm and keep a roof over their heads. I’m proud to stand with Senator Dawn Euer in her efforts to make sure coats are available to those most in need this year, and I hope many, many Rhode Islanders will join us by bringing donations to the State House.”
Said Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), in whose city the Coalition for the Homeless is headquartered, “Winter is always a difficult time for the poor. This winter, after months of the pandemic, there are more people in need, fewer resources for them, and it’s very hard to safely connect people to the resources they need. I hope anyone who can spare warm clothes will donate generously and help their neighbors who are struggling.”
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