(The Center Square) – Rhode Island officials have taken down a makeshift homeless encampment outside the state capitol building after a judge sided with Gov. Dan McKee’s push to evict the inhabitants.
In a ruling, Superior Court Judge David Cruise rejected a legal challenge seeking to block the McKee administration from breaking up the homeless encampment of about 30 tents outside the public building.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, which had challenged the evictions, said the decision fails to acknowledge the “arbitrary and discriminatory” manner in which the McKee administration was going about breaking up the encampment.
The group had argued in court that the eviction order “infringed on freedom of speech” by suppressing protests by the homeless on the state’s housing crisis.
“Eliminating this protest may prevent some people from having to directly confront a visible example of the state’s housing crisis, but it only hides the problem and denies the exercise of a fundamental freedom,” the group said in a statement.
But attorneys for the McKee administration argued the eviction notice met the state’s legal requirements for restricting overnight protest activities.
In his ruling, Cruise said the state had met those requirements clearing the way for the evictions.
“The plaintiffs can still communicate their message to defendants and to the state without having to sleep overnight at the Statehouse,” he said.
Two weeks ago, 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.
Cruise had imposed a restraining order temporarily preventing the McKee administration from breaking up the homeless encampment while he reviewed the ACLU’s complaint.
The issue has divided the state government, with Attorney General Peter Neronha declining to represent McKee administration in its efforts to evict the homeless campers. A spokesman for the AG’s office said it wasn’t giving proper notice about the legal challenge.
As a result, the McKee administration was forced to hire a private law firm to represent them, the cost of which hasn’t been disclosed.