Homeless camping outside State House remain, 2nd complaint filed

This is a photo of tents outside of the Rhode Island State House. (WLNE)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — A hearing on the homeless sleeping in tents outside the Rhode Island State House was pushed back a few more days by a Superior Court judge, after a new complaint has been filed..

Tuesday, the Rhode Island ACLU, and the Rhode Island Center for Justice, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the 24 homeless, arguing that they camped out at the State House because “they wish to convey a message that they are in need of and unable to access adequate shelter.”

“They believe that the message is best conveyed by their continuing physical presence at the seat of Rhode Island government,” read the complaint.

Steven Brown, the ACLU’s executive director, argued that the State House grounds are a “traditional public forum where the Government’s ability to limit protected speech and expression is at its most constrained.”

The executive director of of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, Jennifer Wood, said that “the current circumstance of removing people from the statehouse where they have a first amendment right to be, is a violation in both the first amendment, and the homeless bill of rights.”

If successful, this legal action would allow those the ACLU is representing to continue to live outside the State House to protest the lack of housing in the Rhode Island.

A man outside the State House said he is frustrated that nothing has been done.

“You got the governors saying that they’re going to do this, and do that, and stuff like that when they get in office, but when they get in, they don’t help the people out,” said Daniel Levasseur.

This legal complaint is in addition to the one filed last week by attorney Rick Corley, which led to a temporary retraining order that permitted the homeless to stay in their tents until Dec. 14.

“The governor has spent money but yet there are still people on the street, he’s hired a high salary housing czar that has no plan a year later, and it’s wrong, it’s criminal and it’s cruel,” Cynthia Mendes, former Rhode Island senator said.

On Dec. 7, Rhode Island State Police and the McKee administration handed an eviction notice to the homeless occupying the tents.

The next day, the ACLU sent a letter to Gov. Dan McKee, asking him to “rescind a notice requiring all persons currently camping in front of the State House to vacate their property” by Friday morning.

McKee’s office said the people outside the State House were offered a bed, transportation, and storage for their personal items.

Also Wednesday, Attorney General Peter Neronha said he will not be representing the governor in this case.

“The governor’s office represents itself from time to time in legal matters, particularly when defending its own discretionary policy decisions and is doing so here,” said Neronha.

“Not consulted in any manner regarding their decision to evict and the way those evictions would be effectuated,” added Neronha.

The next hearing on both injunctions will be held at the Superior Court at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

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