Douglas Matthews of Roslindale, MA, devoted family man, inspiring teacher and advocate for social and economic justice, passed away February 11, just three days after his sixty-third birthday, following a long illness. Doug worked in Rhode Island in the 1980s at the Coalition for Consumer Justice (CCJ) and Workers Association for Guaranteed Employment (WAGE). He is well remembered by his many friends in RI as an impassioned community organizer and canvass director and as a generous sharer of his extensive knowledge of political theory – including feminist theory, music, books, movies and life-experiences.
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While in Providence, Doug met the love of his life and future wife, Sarah Lamitie. After marrying in 1988, they settled in Boston and raised two children: Claire Lamitie and Finley Matthews – both now in college. A natural educator, at the age of 40, Doug transitioned from community organizing to teaching school – primarily at Attleboro High School where he taught social studies for the last 18 years. He was known for teaching current global affairs so his students would always be informed about the world around them. He created courses on topics such as Islam and global conflict and brought guest speakers into his classes from all ends of the spectrum. He was the long-time advisor to many student clubs including: Amnesty International, environmental clubs, the Gay Straight Alliance and Model U.N.
Because of his flexible teacher’s schedule, Doug was deeply involved in his children’s lives, a role he relished. He was a consistent support and presence in their lives. Doug will be sorely missed by his family, friends, neighbors and colleagues alike who came to know him and his loving, gentle nature, good humor, patience, deeply principled and joyful approach to life.
A memorial service is planned for March 26, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. at Theodore Parker Unitarian Church, 1859 Centre Street, West Roxbury, MA. Donations in Doug’s memory may be made to Attleboro High School in support of the Model UN Program (508-222-5150); Roxbury Youthworks, Inc (www.roxburyyouthworks.org), or Heifer International (www.heifer.org).
This week has felt particularly challenging for those of us who work in the victim services field in Rhode Island. On Sunday, which was Mother’s Day, a 42-year-old East Providence woman was allegedly killed by her ex-boyfriend. On Monday night, a Cranston municipal court judge was arrested on charges that he allegedly choked his girlfriend. And these local incidents come on the heels of national news about a high-profile professional boxer with a history of domestic violence charges and the NFL’s questionable priorities when it comes to suspending players who have engaged in domestic assault.
Intimate partner violence is a serious public health issue both locally and throughout the country. An estimated 1 in 4 Rhode Island women will experience abuse at the hands of her partner. We know children who grow up in households witnessing violence are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of abuse.
Fortunately, there are local community resources for victims of abuse. Sojourner House is one of six domestic violence agencies in Rhode Island that provides direct services to individuals and families impacted by abuse. In 2014, we provided 3,094 emergency shelter bed nights, 4,930 transitional housing bed nights, and we answered almost 2,000 crisis phone calls. We also worked to break the cycle of violence with our prevention work, which reached 1,776 students in educational settings.
With six family apartments and four units available for single women, the program allows survivors of violence to live in their own space and receive supportive services as they get back on their feet. Clients are provided their own housing unit, and residents are able to access support groups, individual counseling, youth programs, HIV testing, immigration advocacy, and job training resources.
The goal of the 100 Campaign is to specifically secure donations of $100 or more from local community members to support this program. If 300 people donated just $100 each, the agency would reach its fundraising goal of $30,000, which would not only maintain the current program but allow for the lease of an additional apartment to house a family of four.
With the end of the Campaign just a couple of short days away, Sojourner House has raised well over $25,000, but we are still seeking community support to make this final push to reach our goal.
The words of a former transitional housing client best sum up the significance of the work that Sojourner House does with this program:
“I felt like my life was about to explode. It’s difficult to leave a home where my kids had their own space and their own privacy… For my children and me, this apartment marked a turning point: I was able to sign a lease as head of household for the first time. My kids finally had a home with space and privacy again. In short, we got our life back. Thank you for putting a set of keys in my hand and trusting me with this opportunity of a new life.”
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Vanessa Volz is the Executive Director of Sojourner House. You can find out more about their work and the 100 Campaign at www.sojournerri.org.
Spearheaded by Community Solutions, Zero: 2016 is a rigorous follow-up to the organization’s 100,000 Homes campaign that housed over 105,000 homeless Americans in under four years. Rhode Island is one of five states (Connecticut, New Mexico, Utah and West Virginia are the other four) that were were selected to participate as full states. Also selected were 67 communities in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Combined, the group includes more than 234 housing authorities, local government entities, nonprofit organizations and community agencies; all are committed to ending homelessness among their veterans and chronically homelessness in their communities.
“All the work we have done for the past five years was to get us to this exact moment in time, to the place where we stand today – at the point of our state becoming the first state in the country to end veteran and chronic homelessness,” stated Jim Ryczek, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “Thanks to the General Assembly that has begun to fund Opening Doors Rhode Island, our State’s place to end homelessness, our service providers and constituents who have wholeheartedly embraced the re-tooling of our homeless system, and our community partners in philanthropy, business and in the faith communities; we are ready to do this!”
The first step for the local campaign is Registry Week, the most extensive collection of data on the homeless ever conducted in Rhode Island. Over 450 volunteers will blanked the state in three nights; from Monday, November 10th through Wednesday, November 12th; from Westerly to Woonsocket, to collect data on every homelessness Rhode Islander. The homeless system will use the information collected during Registry Week to develop by-name files on every homeless person in the state. This will then enable quick and correct housing and service placement. Support for Rhode Island’s Registry Week and Zero: 2016 has come from the United Way of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Foundation, and Rhode Island Housing as part of their commitments to tackling the issue of homelessness in Rhode Island.
Dr. Erich Hirsch, Professor at Providence College and the Chair of the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Committee, applauded the Registry Wekk stateing, “This is the first time ever, in the history of collecting data on homelessness in Rhode Island, that we will have such a complete picture of homeless Rhode Islanders. The data collected will enable to prioritize the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders and match them with the appropriate services and housing options.”
“Ending homelessness in our state is not a pipe dream,” added Ryczek. “It is a reality that is within our reach, within our lifetime. We must continue to summon the political and public will to make it so.”
Community residents, friends, affordable housing advocates and homeless and formerly homeless constituents came together on Monday for a candlelight vigil for two more Rhode Islanders who died on the streets.
The vigil was held for Wendy Tallo and Irene Weh, two women who lived on the streets for years, and both died in the Grace Church Cemetery in Providence where the candlelight vigil was held.
Wendy and Irene are the sixth and seventh deaths this year of homeless persons living outside. And while the official cause of deaths for the cases vary, advocates contend that the real killer in all cases were the same: homelessness.
“The results of a recent study in England confirm what decades of research in the United States and worldwide have found: homelessness kills,” according to the Homelessness Resource Center for the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “People who experience homelessness have a morality rate four times that of the general population. They die decades earlier, often from treatable medical conditions. Women who experience homelessness are especially vulnerable.”
The interim findings of a study investigating homeless mortality in England from 2001 to 2009 revealed that the average age of death of a homeless person is 47. This compares to 77 for the general population. Homeless women die even younger, at an average age of 43. Additional findings include:Homeless people are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population;Deaths as a result of traffic accidents are 3 times as likely, infections twice as likely and falls over 3 times as likely; andBeing homeless is incredibly difficult both physically and mentally and has significant impacts on people’s health and well-being. Ultimately, homelessness kills.
The authors of the report note that these health disparities exist despite significant investment in the National Health Service. They state: “That homeless people die at such a young age is a tragedy. That homelessness could be easily prevented and is not is a scandal.”
Similarly, other research in the United States and around the world over the past 40 years revealed the same results. Author James O’Connell, M.D., notes that the relationship between homelessness and early mortality is remarkably consistent. Despite different methodologies and cultures, studies reveal:People who experience homelessness have a mortality rate three to four times that of the general population;The average age at death of a person who is homeless is between 42 and 52 years of age; andYounger women who are homeless have a mortality rate that is 4 to 31 times higher than that of women who are housed.
“No doubt about it, homelessness kills,” exclaimed Barbara Kalil, Co-Director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP) and a member of the Statewide Outreach Committee. “But it doesn’t have to,” she adds. “We know the cure/solution is permanent affordable housing and it angers me that we aren’t housing our homeless residents more quickly.”
Advocates decry the sixth and seventh deaths of this year. After a particularly brutal winter, outreach workers had breathed a collective sigh of relief that no one died outside in the cold winter months. The seven deaths since March are a stark reminder of the year-round danger of being homeless.
The Statewide Outreach Committee of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, which is comprised of outreach workers from around the state, made a decision at the beginning of the year that if anyone died homeless while outside, they would hold a vigil to bring visibility to the fact of Rhode Islanders dying on the streets.
The vigil opened with a song by Officer Jimmy Winters of the Newport Police Department and a long-time advocate for those Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness. Winters is the founder of the Housing Hotline, a non-profit organization that helps people with any kind of housing issue or homelessness.
Advocates pointed to the 2013 homeless figures that show a decrease in the number of homeless Rhode Islanders for the first time since 2007 as evidence that we, indeed, 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.
The decrease has been attributed to a combination of a recovering economy and the homeless system beginning to see the benefits of programs outlined in Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness.
Advocates contend that the decline in the homeless numbers is a result of funding focused on permanent supportive housing and they urged legislators to stay committed and focused on Opening Doors Rhode Island, the state’s plan to end homelessness and to make sure that it continues to be implemented and fully funded.
Opening Doors Rhode Island outlines 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.
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The vigil ended with candles being lit as the sun set and Officer Winters played music.
“Our message tonight is that we can do better,” exclaimed Don Boucher, Assistant Executive Director for Riverwood Mental Health Services. “We have to stop looking away because when we look away people die. We all need the courage to look around us and see those who are living on the streets. Averting our eyes will not solve the problem. The truth is, if we are willing to look long enough we will know what to do to solve the problem.”