Who Will Prevail in Pension Debate?

One had to expect that political pressure brought by certain special interests would enter the pension reform debate. Well, here it is. The Providence’s Journal’s recent reporting about the pressure threatening to come down on legislators who may wish to back the kind of comprehensive pension reform we have to have says it all, and that’s why the General Treasurer is clearly worried that whatever recommendations she and the Governor propose - and we're getting wind of those now - may come to naught in the end. Considering the situation we’re facing, it’s almost impossible to believe that we’ll end up with half a loaf, but credible people are predicting that’s what’s going to happen in the end.

As Gina Raimondo says, however, if legislators back half-hearted measures on pension reform, the numbers won’t work and the problem will only get worse. We know for sure that without comprehensive reform a number of our cities and towns will go straight over a cliff starting next July. How can the General Assembly, in its most dramatic and consequential hour, allow that to happen?

While special interests apply the pressure to water down pension reform – proposing no credible alternative plan in the meantime – the public should push back and let legislators know that if they don’t back the real thing, then they had better watch their backs from taxpayers come election time next November. They have to know it will come down to that.

So who is going to get the upper hand here, the special interests or the taxpayers? With the very future of our state at stake, that's no small matter.

Hope for the Homeless

In these difficult economic times it’s not unusual to know or to have heard about someone who may have faced their own housing crisis in the form of actual or potential homelessness. It may be a relative, neighbor or friend, man, woman or child, young, middle-aged or older person, as homelessness can strike anyone. Here in Rhode Island we have over 7,000 people currently homeless as we come into the change of season and the onset of winter ahead. Our shelters, facing budget and assistance cutbacks, have been struggling to meet the demand for shelter during the past few months, which is an unusual seasonal situation that shows just how bad the situation really is. And many of these folks, including children, have been homeless, for several years running now.

House of Hope is one of the unsung organizations in our state that is trying to make a difference in confronting the tragedy of homelessness. Located in the Apponaug village of Warwick, just a stone’s throw from Warwick City Hall, House of Hope, which is part of the state’s Coalition for the Homeless, operates a slightly different model than the larger and better known Crossroads RI organization. House of Hope focuses on meeting basic needs first – offering temporary and permanent housing - often in small housing units that function much like the boarding houses of the past - and in providing comprehensive social services to help get people back on their feet. The organization, which was founded in 1989 by an exceptional lady and tireless advocate for the poor, Jean Johnson, now operates 15 properties in Warwick, taking in individuals and families.

House of House has a staff of over 30 and relies on volunteers and support from the community (disclosure note: the Taco/White Family Foundation is one of its benefactors). Many of the individuals it helps are homeless men, often with substance abuse problems. By getting a roof over these individuals to start with, House of Hope then works with them to help rebuild their lives, and it has had remarkable success in that endeavor. One individual who presently lives in an apartment provided by House of Hope narrowly escaped being crushed when the dumpster he was in was picked up by a trash hauler. After coming out of the hospital and into the care of House of Hope, he now volunteers for the organization. As part of its comprehensive approach, House of Hope assisted his efforts to get social security disability, and today he uses his disability payments to help pay for his apartment.

Under a state contract House of Hope also runs Harrington Hall in the Pastore Complex in Cranston. With the closure and then demolition of the Welcome Arnold shelter to make way for the State Police headquarters that then wasn’t built on that ground, Harrington Hall is a major intake center and a very busy place. Come the late afternoon along Pontiac Avenue on any given day of the week one can see men walking to Harrington Hall for the evening. The hall functions as a triage center for assessment and as the first step for as many as can be accommodated into House of Hope’s housing properties. Food service is provided by the Providence Rescue Mission, another vital organization in our state helping the homeless.

With an unprecedented number of people homeless, demands on the resources of this most basic element of the social safety net – providing for the homeless – is under great strain and needs our support. When that Providence Rescue Mission envelope comes in the mail in the weeks ahead, don’t throw it away with the junk mail. And you can make a donation to House of Hope by going to www.thehouseofhopecdc.org. It could save someone’s life this winter.