Today, friends, is a great day for homeless advocates across the country – with big victories appearing in a number of communities.
In Seattle, a letter submitted to the City Council by the Law Center lead to a mayoral veto of an aggressive panhandling law that would have posed major constitutional and human rights concerns. This new ordinance would have violated First Amendment rights by restricting free speech without an adequate justification for doing so. Vague language in the ordinance would have also allowed for problems of arbitrary enforcement – increasing the likelihood of criminalizing homelessness. As the letter explained, “Instead of pursuing measures that can lead to civil rights violations and consequent costly and burdensome litigation, Seattle should dedicate more time and resources to developing jobs at a living wage, promoting affordable housing, ensuring increased access to health care for low-income persons, and other solutions to homelessness.” In other words, the Law Center is not advocating for panhandling, but for constructive alternatives to laws like this one, which penalize people experiencing homelessness instead of working to improve their situations.
In Florida, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill adding homeless people to the list of people protected by the state’s hate crimes act. The Law Center has long advocated for this kind of action; last year, due to years of advocacy, both Washington, D.C. and Maryland added homeless people as a protected class to their statutes.
And, though this didn’t happen today, we wanted to share it in case you missed this great news: In Maryland, House Bill 1382, Rental Housing Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, passed. The law will take effect in October 2010. It prohibits rental discrimination and discriminatory evictions based on one’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, and will allow for early lease termination and lock changes to protect survivors.