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NEW: Candelight Vigil Tonight for Newport’s Michael Bourque

Friday, April 25, 2014

 

Affordable housing advocates, community residents, and homeless and formerly homeless residents are gathering in Newport Friday night for a candelight vigil to honor the life of Michael Bourque.

Bourque died on March 18 after he was pulled from a fire that engulfed the abandoned truck cab where he had sought refuge on a night when the temperature was 19 degrees. Bourque was 33 years old.

“Our message tonight is that we can do better,” said Don Boucher, Assistant Executive Director for Riverwood Mental Health Services, who oversees the Housing First program in Newport and has seen dozens of Newporters battling homelessness be successfully housed.

“What is maddening about this situation is that it is avoidable. We know how to tackle these problems of homelessness, addiction, substance abuse – we know what to do, we have the models, yet we continue to lack the public and political will to demand that we implement and fund those models.”

Jim Sullivan, an outreach worker for Riverwood Mental Health Services, knew Bourque, who was called “Boston Mike” by those who knew him because of his origins in Massachusetts. Sullivan said, “We can solve this problem, we can beat this dragon to the ground. We need to bring together concerned citizens from the public and private sectors to work together for a resolution to this solvable problem.”

Advocates point to the release of the newest homeless figures that show a decrease in the number of homeless Rhode Islanders for the first time since 2007 as evidence that the state can do better.  In February, the 2013 annual statistics were released that showed a decrease by 9% in the total numbers of homeless from 4,868 in 2012 to 4,447 in 2013. The annual statistics also showed decreases from 2012 to 2013 for children, families and veterans entering homelessness.

With the recent funding of $750,000 for rental vouchers by the General Assembly, 125 of the most chronic homeless are in the process of being housed. Advocates are calling on the General Assembly to build on last year’s success by supporting legislation that continues to fund the solutions.  Opening Doors Rhode Island has outlined a plan that significantly transforms the provision of services to Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. Consistent with the new federal plan to end homelessness, the plan seeks to sharply decrease the numbers of people experiencing homelessness and the length of time people spend homeless.

Cheryl Robinson, Executive Director for Turning Around Ministries, said that people should "REST --  but not rest in the traditional sense but rather REST – Remember Michael, Encourage those trying to do something, Support the work to end homelessness and Try something, get out of your comfort zone.”

The Statewide Outreach Committee of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, which is comprised of outreach workers from around the state, had made a decision at the beginning of the year that if anyone died homeless while outside this year they would hold a vigil to bring visibility to the fact of Rhode Islanders dying on the streets.

 

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