California Introduces a Homeless Bill of Rights
Building off of Rhode Island’s community effort, a coalition of West Coast organizations working with Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced a Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights and Fairness Act on December 3, 2012.
The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, said, “We need to stop criminalizing the behavior of people who have nowhere else to turn. People who are in need of mental health services or who have lost their jobs and their homes are being told, ‘Move along or go to jail.’ The Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights begins to give us a framework for appropriate approaches to protecting our communities and those who are vulnerable.”
“From the Ugly Laws of the mid-19th century—which made it a crime to have a visible disability in public—through the anti-Okie law of the Great Depression—which made it a crime for poor people to enter the state—up through the present, state and local governments have used unjust laws to punish or conceal poor people,” said Paul Boden, Organizing Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). “But as long as these laws have existed, there’s been resistance. We’re introducing this bill of rights because we believe that the time has come to address the wrongs and most importantly stop them from ever happening again.”
The effort is a collaboration between WRAP, Jericho: A Voice for Justice, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. Judith Larson of Jericho said, “This is the essence of what Jericho was formed to do, and has continued to do for the past 25 years.”
The following rights of homeless people are enumerated in the California Homeless Bill of Rights:
Freedom from discrimination based on homeless status:
- In interactions with law enforcement, security guards, business owners, property managers, or BID agents.
- When seeking or maintaining employment.
- When seeking or maintaining housing or shelter.
- When seeking services (public benefits, medical care, help from police).
- In completing all necessary steps to vote.
- Freedom from unreasonable searches and/or seizures of personal property.
Access to public space:
- Freedom to use public spaces: to move freely through them, to use them for rest, to own and possess private property in public spaces, to share, accept, and/or give food in public spaces.
Right to safety:
- The right to the same protections that law enforcement agencies are supposed to afford to all other citizens, including the right to reasonable protection from domestic violence, sexual assault, hate crimes, and robberies.
- The right to make their own decisions regarding whether or not to enter into public or private shelters or social service programs.
Right to engage in life sustaining activities:
- The right to sufficient health and hygiene centers available 24 hours including bathrooms and showers.
- The right to sleep, stand, sit, possess personal property, eat, or to engage in other life-sustaining activities.
- The right to occupy vehicles while legally parked on public property.
Rights to privacy/confidentiality of housing status, poverty status, health status.
- The right to confidentiality of personal records regarding housing status, income level, mental illness, physical disability.
Right to counsel:
- The right to quality defense counsel in criminal hearings and civil warrants, when possible punishment might include jail time or commitment to a public health institution.
Rights of homeless schoolchildren:
- Counties and municipalities must adhere to the Federal law so homeless children can remain in the same school that they had attended before becoming homeless or immediate enrollment in a new school.
- The right to restitution if the victim of a crime.
- The right to restitution for loss of, damage to, or destroyed property and/or personal belongings.
- The right to purchase goods and services.
- Monitor enforcement of local ordinances affecting homeless people by ensuring that information regarding the citation of homeless people by law enforcement be available to homeless people and their advocates.
The following rights are aspirational in the bill:
Right to shelter:
- Right to shelter 24/7 for all people.
- All shelter shall be sanitary and safe.
Right to basic services, income, and to perform life-sustaining activities:
- The right to safe, decent, permanent affordable housing.
- The right to income.
- The right to access medical facilities and quality healthcare.
Rights of homeless schoolchildren:
- The right to be provided the supplies necessary for academic success (backpacks, textbooks, notebooks, pencils, pens, and appropriate academic technology).
Homelessness as it relates to this bill will be defined as:
Definition of Homelessness:
This bill creates a state standard that defines as “homeless” those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and who have a primary nighttime residence in a shelter, on the street, in a vehicle, in an enclosure or structure that is not authorized or fit for human habitation, sub-standard apartments, dwellings, doubled up temporarily, or who are staying in transitional housing programs. This includes anyone staying in residential hotels without tenancy rights, and families with children staying in residential hotels whether or not they have tenancy rights”.
If you are interested in working on a Homeless Bill of Rights in West Virginia please contact DAWG. If you are interested in working on a Homeless Bill of Rights in your state you can also contact DAWG or Paul Boden of WRAP to be linked up with USACIA an international organization that is working on this among other issues of homelessness and housing.