Friday, June 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 2

Good news: RI passes "Homeless Bill of Rights"

Last week, Rhode Island passed the nation's first "Homeless Bill of Rights" and did so without significant opposition. The measure formally bans discrimination against homeless people and affirms their equal access to jobs, housing and, services. It would also guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks, transportation, and public buildings "without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status" - that is, just like anyone else. The law also guarantees a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to personal belongings similar to that of people who have homes.

This simple and humane legislation actually flies in the fact of a trend in US cities to criminalize homelessness and things associated with homelessness. Not so long ago, the homeless were a focus of concern - and with an estimated 643,000 people homeless on any given night in the United States today, you'd think they might still be. But instead of dealing with homelessness, cities have increasingly been focusing on hiding homelessness. It's been out of sight, out of mind and we're going to make damn sure you're out of our sight.

A report in April from the White House's Interagency Council on Homelessness noted a "proliferation of local measures to criminalize 'acts of living'" such as sitting, standing or asking for money in public places.

In St. Louis, for example, police cleared out three homeless encampments along the Mississippi River. n the wake of that, a local minister leased a site for the specific purpose of giving the homeless a place to use - only to have the cops kick them out of there, too.

San Francisco has begun enforcing a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks between 7AM and 11PM. Sit on the sidewalk in San Francisco, and you could be fined up to $500.

In San Jose, California, until recently police were just throwing away the personal possessions of homeless people seized during sweeps of homeless camps.

In Philadelphia, an ordinance took effect on June 1 under which even recognized charities cannot even feed homeless people in public places such as parks.

If you're homeless, you're regarded as a blight, you're looked down on, sneered at, dismissed, treated almost like a disease which must be quarantined. But now, happily, not in Rhode Island. Not any more. Congratulations, Rhode Island. Roger Williams would be proud.



Anonymous said...

To read why similar legislation is needed in neighboring MA and CT, search for "New police weapon against homeless". Bill Anderson Masters degree Harding University 93

Lotus said...

Such legislation is needed everywhere.

BTW, the most recent post I saw on the thread that came up on that search was from last September. Any developments since then?

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