Desperate and Deserted

Brett Lowder, Herald Contributor

Over spring break, fellow students and I stayed on campus for the Honors Program “Staybreak” to immerse ourselves into the issues surrounding food insecurity in Rhode Island. We spent the week doing service at local homeless shelters, soup kitchens, farms, and concluded the week meeting with local representatives at the Rhode Island Statehouse to discuss the future of food security in RI. We learned that Rhode Island has a wealth of problems surrounding food insecurity throughout the state. There are many individuals who struggle with food security, job security, homelessness, addiction, or more likely, a crossroads of the group. Those issues above are intertwined, and in many ways, to solve one, the others must also be addressed.  


According to the Associated Press, homelessness in Rhode Island went up 1.7 percent in 2017 from 2016, to a total of 1,180 individuals. For many people in the homeless population, there is a constant search for the next place to get a meal and lay their head at night. Many of the homeless shelters kick their guests out in the morning and leave them wandering the streets until the night.  Homelessness is a major factor for food insecurity. 

There are numerous programs in Rhode Island that are working to solve the issues of food insecurity and homelessness to get to the root of the problem. For example, at Amos House in Providence, guests can get meals, steady housing for up to 90 days, job training, and addiction help all under the same “roof” of Amos House. This sort of “wrap around” service allows for an individual to grow out of food and home insecurity.  At Amos House, one woman told us that their goal is to get people out of the survival mindset, or stop worrying about food and shelter each day, and into a thriving mindset of how to gain steady employment, improve health, and gain independence.  

It is not just homeless people who are food insecure. There are millions of Americans who are food insecure because of other factors such as food deserts. A food desert is an area where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality food.  Depending on the variation in definition, significant parts of Aquidneck Island and Bristol, Rhode Island are considered food deserts. For example, I wrote this article from Baypoint Residence Hall, where the closest grocery destinations are a 15 minute drive away. Although many are fortunate to have access to a car, those in poverty may not, and as a result, struggle to find food. For those in poverty, of older age, or who suffer from a physical disability, this can hinder their ability to access affordable food. It is clear to see that without a car, even in a state where there is a bus system that runs throughout the entire state, food access becomes incredibly difficult.  Now place this same scenario in the Midwest of United States, where there is not a statewide bus system and the problem deepens even further.       


            Rhode Island has a unique ability to make meaningful impacts in state policy and action due to its small size. Not only can individuals make a meaningful and tangible difference in Rhode Island, but they can influence policy. Few people in this state communicate with their representatives, and those who do have the ability to influence the issues that are voted on. This past week, my classmates and I introduced the issues of food insecurity and the complicated web of issues surrounding it to our state representatives. Our experience exposed us to the realities of food insecurity and taught us that there is no one solution to such a complex issue. In order to combat food insecurity throughout the state, Rhode Island must also make strides to improve homelessness, addiction, mental health problems, and job security.