As Occupy Providence pulls up its last tent stake after more than 100 days in a public park downtown, it does so with a distinction among Occupy Wall Street affiliates: It demanded its city government do more to help the needy, and won.
A day center to serve the city’s homeless population during the winter opened Friday in south Providence. Protesters had made such a facility a condition of their departure from Burnside Park.
Many Occupy movements — in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and elsewhere — were forced out of public spaces, often through mass arrests and the use of sometimes excessive force. But Occupy Providence and city officials have talked for months about how to avoid that fate and bring a peaceful end to the park encampment, even as the protest movement carries on.
“We took a gamble,’’ said Robert Malin, an independent film producer who has been part of Occupy Providence from the start. “It was never about camping downtown.’’
So, on the steps of City Hall last week, after an agreement was reached on the day center, protesters declared victory at the same time they announced they would dismantle their tents.
The Occupy movement has shined a light on its signature issue of economic inequality, which was a focus of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. And protesters have had other successes, shutting down West Coast ports and working to stave off home foreclosures in some cities. But the approach and outcome in Providence stood out.
“It’s a symbol of what this movement’s all about: standing up for economic justice,’’ Sullivan Ross, an Occupy Wall Street protester in Providence last week as part of a tour of Northeast Occupy movements, said of the homeless day center. “This is one of the few concrete political victories that can be pointed to.’’
The center, to be run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, welcomed its first guests Friday at Emmanuel House, where there is already an emergency winter shelter. The city is not providing money but is helping the diocese secure it, said Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, who kept in close contact with Occupy during its more than three-month encampment.
Occupy deserves some credit for helping the city focus on the need for such a center, said Michael Guilfoyle, a spokesman for the diocese.