(The Center Square) – A Rhode Island judge has temporarily blocked the state from relocating homeless people living in tents outside the State House, following a move by Gov. Dan McKee to evict them.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge David Cruise, issued over the weekend, imposed a restraining order preventing the McKee administration from breaking up the homeless encampment of about 30 tents outside the public building.
A legal challenge filed on behalf of the homeless encampment, argued that they have established a “physical presence” on the public grounds of the capitol building, and as such, are protected under the First Amendment. Cruise granted their request for a restraining order until another hearing.
Last week, the McKee administration began notifying individuals living on State House grounds that they must leave within 48 hours, or face fines or arrest. The state deployed outreach workers to help the individuals find shelters and store their belongings, and promised to set up a “warming station” as temperatures dropped.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island wrote to the McKee administration threatening to file litigation if the state didn’t rescind its 48 hour eviction notice.
The group said the processes being used by the state to evict the homeless encampment is “completely inappropriate and appear to be without a legal basis.”
“State House grounds are open to the public,” the ACLU wrote. “While it may be the case that the state could limit access to a public forum like this, including prohibiting overnight use, it is our understanding that the state has not formally done so and, to the contrary, is singling out the most vulnerable of our citizens in engaging in this clampdown.”
Both parties are due back in court on Wednesday, when Cruise is expected to consider the merits of the lawsuit over the evictions.
The McKee administration says it’s focused on dealing with the issue of homelessness in the state, and recently pumped more money into the state’s emergency shelter program to create additional beds.
Last month, the state Department of Housing awarded $1.4 million to nonprofits groups to fund the addition of 77 new beds in homeless shelters across the state, which will boost the state’s capacity to more than 1,000 beds.