Hearing over homeless encampment postponed; National Guard activated to set up warming station

Updated at 3:34 p.m. on Dec. 14

R.I. SUPERIOR COURT Judge David Cruise has left in place a temporary restraining order that blocks evictions from homeless camp outside the Statehouse in Providence, and he scheduled a new hearing in the case for Dec. 16. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

PROVIDENCE – The legal fight over a homeless encampment outside the R.I. Statehouse has been extended.

R.I. Superior Court Judge David Cruise on Wednesday postponed a scheduled hearing and left in place a temporary restraining order that blocks the state’s attempt to evict homeless people camped on the Statehouse grounds.

A new hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 16. WJAR-TV NBC 10 reported Wednesday then a judge was going to review additional information provided Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island on behalf of the homeless people.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Dan J. McKee authorized Maj. Gen. Christopher Callahan to order up to 50 R.I. National Guard members to temporarily assist with the operation of a Cranston Street Armory warming station for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. The warming station is expected to begin operations Dec. 16 according to the press release.

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“As we were prepared to show the court today, those camping outside the State House have been offered shelter beds,” said McKee’s Communications Director Andrea Palagi in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of those who were offered shelter have accepted and been placed. Our team will continue to conduct outreach to the few who have declined emergency shelter beds that have been offered.”

Plans to set up an emergency warming center in the armory on the West End of Providence have been delayed due to a lack of responses to the state’s request for proposals, according to news reports.

Earlier, WPRI-TV CBS 12 reported that Gov. Daniel J. McKee has retained outside counsel after R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha declined to represent the administration in this legal matter.

McKee has retained attorneys R. Bart Totten and Stephen Lapatin of the Providence-based firm Adler Pollock & Sheehan according to court records.

Neronha spokesperson Brian Hodge told WPRI that the attorney general declined to get involved because McKee’s office didn’t consult with the Office of Attorney General lawyers before handing out eviction notices last week to several people who had been sleeping outside the Statehouse.

On Dec. 7, McKee issued notices that gave them until 9 a.m. on Dec. 9 to leave the Statehouse and remove their belongings or face possible fines or arrest. The warning drew criticism from advocacy groups, inspiring protests and a statement from the ACLU denouncing McKee’s notice as “inappropriate” and “without legal basis.”

“In this matter, the governor’s office first contacted the Office of the Attorney General to request legal representation when it learned that it would be served with a lawsuit,” Hodge said in a statement. “Not having been previously consulted in any manner regarding their decision to evict and the way those evictions would be effectuated, we declined their request for representation.”

A Warwick attorney, Richard Corley, sought to stop the eviction, filing a motion for a preliminary injunction in R.I. Superior Court on Dec. 8, according to court records shared with PBN. In the motion, which names McKee as the defendant, Corley says the governor failed to give the people camped outside the Statehouse “any reasonable time to respond or comply with the notice.”

“The hasty and faulty method being proposed by Governor Daniel McKee is creating a dangerous environment for not only those at the encampment, but those who live in the surrounding area, and should be modified, deleted or reconsidered until a further date to ensure the safety of the men, women and children that are being uprooted during the Holiday Season,” Corley wrote. “An impending disaster is looming.”

Although McKee’s eviction notices offered to take those camped out to an emergency shelter, there appears to be nowhere for them to go.  A separate shelter operated by the Diocese of Providence, Emmanuel House, is only open to men, not women and children, and does not have any room available, according to Corley’s motion.

The injunction issued Dec. 9 stops the people camped outside the state house from being evicted until the next hearing. Corley in an interview Dec. 9 said he was pleased with the judge’s order but that seven days was still not enough time to coordinate housing for the roughly 40 homeless people being asked to vacate.

PBN staff writer Nancy Lavin contributed to this report.

Updates with Gov. Dan J. McKee’s authorization for R.I. National Guard members to temporarily assist with the operation of a Cranston Street Armory warming station.

Updates with warming station to begin operations on Dec. 16 in 4th paragraph.

Comment from McKee communication’s director added in 5th paragraph.

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