RI Opinion+: Juan Espinoza & Melissa Cruz

Belén Dumont

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Welcome to another episode of RI Latino News Opinion+ where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of Rhode Island. This week we spoke with Communications & Development Manager Juan Espinoza and Community Programs Manager Melissa Cruz from the RI Coalition To End Homelessness

The RI Coalition to End Homelessness has a variety of responsibilities across the state, such as being the lead agency for the Homeless Management & Information System (HMIS) and the Coordinated Entry System (CES) Call Center. 

The organization’s main areas of focus also include policy and advocacy work, training and support for service providers, along with educating the public on reasons why people experience homelessness to diminish existing stereotypes.

“Our commitment is to ensure that no Rhode Islander experiences homelessness,” Espinoza said. “We promote and preserve the dignity and quality of life for men, women, and children by pursuing comprehensive and cooperative solutions to the problems of housing and homelessness. And this is accomplished through advocacy, education, collaboration, technical assistance, and selective direct services.”

The HMIS is a shared database used by all homeless service providers in Rhode Island that tracks people who are experiencing homelessness across the state. 

“HMIS is basically the data repository for the Continuum of Care (CoC)…so it’s partnered with 47 agencies with over 200 projects that we are serving persons and households that are experiencing homelessness or [who were] formerly homeless,” Cruz explained. 

The CES helpline is available 24/7 and connects residents who may be experiencing homelessness to a shelter or other services related to housing and homelessness. 

“You can either call or send an email and that will connect you to an agent who will look at what are the available options to get you into shelter,” Espinoza told RI Latino News. “Now, shelter is not guaranteed as there is limited shelter in the state of Rhode Island, but they can put you on a waiting queue…the waiting queue has grown, unfortunately.”

RICTEH, among other local advocacy groups, has urged the government to declare a state of emergency for homelessness as this would prioritize homelessness as an issue. Although, enacting a state of emergency is a relatively new tactic in addressing homelessness, according to Espinoza. 

“It has not been a very common strategy, but…declaring a state of emergency for homelessness [would] reduce bureaucratic barriers, such as bypassing zoning requirements… which allows for a quicker ability to use city-owned property to open and maintain shelters, so it’s not just for housing, but also for shelter,” Espinoza said. “Declaring that would really mean more funding, more collaboration, and less bureaucratic red tape…”

Resources mentioned in this video: 

  • RI Coalition to End Homelessness Website: https://www.rihomeless.org
  • The CES helpline: 401-277-4316
    • Learn more and/or contact the helpline online at https://www.rihomeless.org/ces 
    • Available agents speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, & Haitian Creole 
  • Check out local resources available through the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development at https://www.hud.gov/states/rhode_island/homeless