Homeless Bills of Rights Gaining Momentum Across the Country

While cities across the nation consider and pass laws against panhandling,  sitting or lying in public places, and other measures which criminalize homelessness, lawmakers in Connecticut and Illinois are following Rhode Island’s lead in passing legislation to protect homeless individuals from discrimination.

On June 5, Connecticut lawmakers passed the ‘Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights,’ which protects homeless persons from discrimination in housing, employment, and government services. Connecticut is the third state to pass such a bill in the state legislature, after Illinois, which passed a similar bill on May 28. Both bills are modeled on Rhode Island’s landmark legislation, which  passed and became law in June 2012.  The Law Center’s civil rights director Heather Maria Johnson and policy director Jeremy Rosen played a leading role in drafting and promoting that law with the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island.

“The bills are a counterpoint to a disturbing national trend,” said executive director and founder of NLCHP Maria Foscarinis.  “Our recent report, Criminalizing Crisis, found that, despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, cities across the country are criminalizing homelessness by passing laws that outlaw life-sustaining acts, such as eating and sleeping, in public spaces.”

Last year, Johnson called Rhode Island’s measure historic and said she hoped that advocates around the country work to pass similar laws. Now, lawmakers in Oregon, Vermont, and Missouri are considering bills similar to Rhode Island’s, and the full California Assembly will vote on AB 5, the ‘Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights and Fairness Act,’ in January 2014.

Johnson is gratified. “Rather than addressing the root causes of homelessness, many cities are instead passing laws that violate homeless persons’ civil and human rights and make it harder for them to secure employment, shelter and benefits,” she said. “The movement of Homeless Bills of Rights spreading across the country combats this trend by protecting homeless persons from discrimination.”

The Connecticut bill is awaiting signature from Governor Dan Malloy (D) before its scheduled enactment date on October 1st, 2013. Similarly, Illinois’ Homeless Bill of Rights is awaiting signature from Governor Pat Quinn (D). Both bills forbid governments, police, healthcare workers, landlords or other employers from treating homeless people unfairly because of their housing status.

This fall, the Law Center will be releasing a report detailing the trend of Homeless Bill of Rights and providing guidance to advocates interested in pursuing a similar proactive strategy in their own states.

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9 Responses to Homeless Bills of Rights Gaining Momentum Across the Country

  1. Mary Bricker-Jenkins says:

    This trend is indeed encouraging, but I wish this article had fully acknowledged the role of organized actions of homeless people themselves in bringing these changes about–and most especially the work of members of WRAP on the West Coast and, through its networking, nationally.

  2. Linda Amar says:

    I live in a small rural community called Shelton, Washington. Shelton has a large homeless population. Most of them are hidden by the fact that we are surrounded by dense woods. This is timber country. Those who live in the core of Shelton are obvious. They are right there, on the streets. The mayor is trying to figure out what to do with them, to get them out of the way so that the area does not look as blighted as it is, so that businesses will move into the vacant storefronts on the main street. Homeless people are being blamed for the inadequacies of social services in a time of budget cutbacks. They are being blamed, not helped.

  3. homelessnesslaw says:

    Thank you for your comment, Ms. Bricker-Jenkins. The Law Center graciously acknowledges the important work of grassroots advocates like John Joyce and WRAP members. We are proud to work with them, and exclusion from this article was not intentional.

  4. Keith Bender says:

    Being on a Consumer Advisory Council to one of these 10 Year Plans provides, is an experience of seeing one thing said while doing another. At 5 years into this Plan I am going against the grain by being so arrogant as to be advocating for a more recent and relevant “Philosophical” idea, HOUSING IS A RIGHT and that Article 1,Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution supports this simply and completely.

    The Half Way review has been done and the Consumer Advisory Council is just now
    coming to approve an unimportant document called BYLAWS. But by Advocating for this more relevant approach. Even asking that the Council declare within these BYLAWS that there is a Homeless Bill of Rights worth restating the State Constitution as it applies and speaks to “Pauperty Rights” I am told that we can do anything we want as long as it mirrors the 10 Year Plan. So the Supportive role outlined in the 10 Year Plan for the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness becomes the Steering Committee for any actions outside of what goes along to get along.

    And those actions are not allowed. And every time I raise a complaint is another opportunity to experience resistance to anything as insignificant as The Virginia Declaration of Rights. Supreme Law of the Land is not a concern for County Employee’s and that in itself is the nature of my complaint. Rights are not respected and as long as the conversation stays inside the fence and does not stray then we
    pretend to be doing something.

    13 States embrace the same Article 1 Section 1 wording with little variation.
    The RIGHT TO PURSUE AND OBTAIN HAPPINESS AND SAFETY. Only 7 have stepped forward to not just Plan Plans but take action that declares what is Right. My Hat is off to Oregon, Missouri, Illinois,Rhode Island and Connecticut for they do not have the same direction in such plain wording.

    California, Vermont, Colorado,Ohio,Nevada, Mass,Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Iowa, West Virginia and Virginia all share the Right to Pursue and Obtain Happiness and Safety. I might add Kentucky since it was a recognized County of Virginia before becoming it’s own State and under our Constitution but without them the combined number is 18. But apparently my Logic falls on deaf ears .
    Maybe the idea of Constitutional Rights has become a Stigma because such discussions seem an Ultra Conservative Libertarian smokescreen for anarchy de juer.
    Or just not relevant anymore if ever ,but do come by and Visit Mt.Vernon and Gunston Hall. We care that we look like we care.

  5. Pingback: Organizing Federal Action to Combat Criminalization of Homelessness | Fellow Talk

  6. SoonToBeHomeless says:

    Linda Amar, I live in Shelton WA, and am about to become homeless myself since I have been unemployed since Jan, 2013 after being injured on the job. I have never had this experience and have no idea on how to survive the kind of living I will soon have to face. I have no idea where I should go. What tree I should claim. Or if I should live in a tree.
    I have tried to find work from here to Lacey. No one is hiring. And those who are will only hire Part Time/Temp. In order to stay where I am living now. I will need to work full time. I am not picky on the kind of job I do. I just may need some training. I have tried to find assistance to help with the bills. I am told there is none. I have no kids at home. And I live alone. If you have any advice at all please, please let me know ASAP. Thank you.

  7. SoonToBeHomeless says:

    I also live in Shelton, and soon to become homeless myself. I have no idea where to go. Or how to survive what is coming my way. I have never been in this situation before. If anyone has any information please share with me. Thank you.

  8. Gary Susich says:

    I have been homeless for a year in Davenport, Iowa. I am trying to get something to happen in Iowa, for a homeless bill of rights. I emailed senators Harkin and Grassley. Representative Dave Loensback and state representatives in Scott county. I have even emailed President Obama. I need help, is there anyone in the state of Iowa who will help me?

  9. Homeless peopl have rights, too.

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