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A much-amended 'Bill of Rights' for the homeless passed out of the California Assembly's Judiciary Committee two days ago on a surprisingly decisive 7-2 vote. The bill, authored by Representative Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, contains strong language protecting the rights of homeless people, despite a number of provisions struck from the latest version.

Such a bill is necessary because, as Amminano says

Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws.

 photo homeless-please-help_zps121f8098.jpg

From the preamble to the legislation:

This bill... would provide that no person's rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged because he or she is homeless, has a low income, or suffers from a mental illness or physical disability.

The bill would provide that every person in the state, regardless of actual or perceived housing status, low income, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship, or immigration status, shall be free from specified forms of discrimination and shall be entitled to certain basic human rights, including the right to be free from discrimination by law enforcement, in the workplace and while seeking services.

San Francisco and other municipalities in California currently have so called "sit and lie" ordinances which prohibit homeless people from various activities such as (oddly enough) sitting or lying on a public sidewalk (but for which a tourist or person dressed in business attire would never be harassed for doing by law enforcement).

In Detroit, Michigan, the ACLU has filed suit against the practice of Detriot Police picking up the homeless and 'dropping them off' twenty or thirty miles outside of town.

But there are also islands of different thinking. In November, 2012, Berkeley voters narrowly defeated a similar bill. In June of 2012 Rhode Island passed a 'Homeless Bill of Rights' law, which incorporated these provisions and more:

Someone who is homeless...
  • Has the right to use and move freely in public spaces...
  • Has the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies...
  • Has the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to his or her lack of permanent mailing address, or his or her mailing address being that of a shelter or social service provider
  • Has the right to emergency medical care...
  • Has the right to vote, register to vote...
The California version is significantly stronger the Rhode Island's law, even after many weakening amendments were made in committee. Here's some clauses from the current language.

Why the bill is necessary:

he Legislature finds and declares all of the following:

(a) In the State of California, there has been a long history of discriminatory laws and ordinances that have disproportionately affected people with low incomes and who are without homes...

(c) Today, in the state, many people are denied the following:
 (1) Housing due to their status of being homeless, living in a shelter, a vehicle, the street, or the public domain.
 (2) Employment due to their current status of being homeless or living in a shelter or a vehicle on the street.
 (3) Housing and employment as a result of not having a fixed or residential mailing address or having a post office box as a mailing address.
 (4) Equal protection of the laws and due process by law enforcement and prosecuting agencies...

(f) Homeless persons are often forced to separate from loved ones, give up their personal property, abandon pets, and make other inhumane choices in order to access even minimal shelter.

What it establishes as rights:
(a) Every person... regardless of actual or perceived housing status... shall have...

 (1) The right move freely in the same manner as any other person in public spaces... without discrimination by law enforcement...
 (2) The right to rest and sleep in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest by law enforcement...
 (3) The right to own and possess set down or leave at rest personal property in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest by law enforcement...
 (4) The right to share, accept, or give food in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest by law enforcement...

 (6) The right to sleep, sit, lie down, stand, eat, solicit donations, or share food in a public place or in a vehicle in a public place, without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions or arrest by law enforcement...
  ...except that law enforcement may enforce existing local laws if all of the following are true: (1) the person's county of residence maintains 12 months per year of nonmedical assistance provided for in Section 17000 of the Welfare and Institutions Code for employable, able-bodied adults without dependents who are compliant with program rules established by the county, including work requirements; (2) the locality is not a geographical area identified by the United States Department of Labor in accordance with Subpart A of Part 654 of Section 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations as an area of concentrated unemployment or underemployment or an area of labor surplus; and (3) the public housing waiting list maintained by the county contains fewer than 50 persons...

(15) The right to assistance of counsel in any civil or criminal proceeding that may result in commitment to a public health institution.

A California law that prohibits discrimination against the state of being homeless, and makes it clear that cities and towns cannot order their police to "clean up the town" by harassing, citing and/or removing the homeless is far past due.
"Citations, arrests and jail time do not solve homelessness," Ammiano told the Assembly Judiciary Committee. "They just route crucial public dollars that could be spent on housing to an already impacted court and corrections system." -- The Republic.
Creating an atmosphere where the homeless do not feel utterly stigmatized, where hopelessness is replaced by hope in being able to get a job or assistance, is equally important. (And a bill to prevent discrimination in job searches against the long-term unemployed would be another important step).

If this bill passes at all, expect the provisions to be watered down further, probably significantly. But as Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homeless noted, if the bill maintains its core principle:

making sure homeless people have a fundamental right to rest
that would be progress.

Originally posted to jpmassar on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 09:42 AM PDT.

Also republished by Occupy Wall Street, California politics, SFKossacks, Progressive Policy Zone, Barriers and Bridges, and Invisible People.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yeah, well, good news on the face of it (9+ / 0-)

    It will be watered down badly, it will be passed, people will make a big deal of its passage even though it doesn't do what the committee wanted it to do, at least one police department or municipality will ignore it and I just HOPE the ACLU or somebody is there when that happens because if it isn't we have worthlessness and if it is who knows if the first judge that gets it won't stay it for the duration of the trial and the appeal process.

    We decided when we made our wills to give whatever there is left of our estate to the agency of the City and County of San Francisco that deals with the needs of homeless people.  Speaking of that, maybe you can replace all the places where you say "the homeless" with "homeless people." I did that when my diary on the general subject was called for doing the same thing.

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Columbine, Tuscon, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston (h/t Charles Pierce)

    by Dave in Northridge on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 09:59:51 AM PDT

  •  I don't want people to have a right to be homeless (9+ / 0-)

    I want people to have right to have a home.

    "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

    by Publius2008 on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 10:06:38 AM PDT

    •  That would be even better. (6+ / 0-)

      Still, some would voluntarily remain without a home in the traditional usage.

      A right to housing is definitely a much better goal, if likely far in the future for the US.

      •  Wouldn't it be nice... (6+ / 0-)
        The right to housing is codified as a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

        "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." (article 25(1))
        •  Who provides it (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The problem is that 'right' must be provided by other people.

          A right to free speech merely prohibits the government from bothering you.

          A right to housing/health care what have you obligates other people to do work on your behalf. Especially if you decide to have a kid: now your 'rights' obligate the rest of us to do even more work on your behalf. Eventually it impedes my right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

          That's the trade off when you talk about rights.

          (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
          Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

          by Sparhawk on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:28:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  OMG. (7+ / 0-)

            Those poor, poor doctors and other health professionals in countries with a right to health care.  They are FORCED, FORCED, to treat the poor and... the ill!  Why, they might catch an illness themselves!

            My heart goes out to these enslaved people.

            •  The doctors get paid (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              The rest of us are who has to pay.

              By elevating social welfare to a right, you are telling me that another person has an absolute right to take from my time and talents, which means that I have an absolute obligation to provide it.

              I support social welfare, but not in a way that I have an absolute obligation to provide it as you are suggesting. I don't owe other people something just because they exist.

              (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
              Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

              by Sparhawk on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 12:05:30 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  They do. You do. That's the cost of living (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FogCityJohn, aitchdee, yella dawg

                in a society.

                Refusal to meet your basic social obligations at any time in the last 3 million years, up until just about... NOW.. would have left you abandoned by your band and helpless, alone in a situation where no hominid could survive for more than a month or two at best before succumbing to hunger or predation or illness or injury.

                Your only hope - and it likely would have been slim - would have been to find another group willing to accept you.  If you'd still refused to care for the sick or the lame among the group when possible, though, they'd have exiled you even quicker.

                That's how real Social Darwinism functioned.

                "Paid Activist" is an oxymoron.

                by JesseCW on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 03:37:44 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  This is where we disagree (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  And regardless of your opinions of relative obligations, at the end of the day, the producers always have the power to withhold the fruits of their labor to some degree or other.

                  There is some level at which people with jobs and income are willing to sacrifice for other people. Beyond that level, you get resentment and rebellion. People get the idea that no matter how hard they work to get ahead, the fruits of those efforts will always be expropriated to satisfy the needs of those who cannot or will not produce.

                  (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
                  Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

                  by Sparhawk on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 04:12:13 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  So go Galt. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    aitchdee, yella dawg

                    That's what you're talking about.

                    You know, I really don't understand why you bother to hang out on this site.  Your Randian views are repugnant to any progressive.  Surely there is a site where you can worship the Pauls père et fils and where people will applaud your utter lack of empathy and approve of your complete absence of social responsibility.

                    But that site isn't DK.

                    "Ça c'est une chanson que j'aurais vraiment aimé ne pas avoir écrite." -- Barbara

                    by FogCityJohn on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 09:35:13 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Great news, even if it does get watered down. (8+ / 0-)

    it's a beginning. I love Tom Amminano, it's great he's in the state house. As a formerly homeless person, I have no problem being referred to, "the homeless" as long as people don't ignore us and don't forget we used to be home owner['s, taxpaying employed people. Some of us still are employed, making being homeless insanely ridiculous. Thanks for the diary.

    Too many in this country feel the Constitution should include the 2nd Amendment. And nothing else.

    by blueoregon on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 10:16:41 AM PDT

  •  As someone who has been homeless often... (7+ / 0-)

    Over the past 20 years (thankfully not since 2005), I agree with some parts of this. Some of the "rights" advocated in this bill will unfortunately be abused and used as an excuse for some behaviors that no one would be happy with (such as those with serious drug & alcohol addiction engaging in behavior on public property that we all don't want or need). Again, as someone who is now clean & sober after years of struggling with addiction, I am not being hypocritical here.

    I appreciate the intent of the bill. I wholeheartedly agree that homeless people should not be harassed and that charities and services trying to feed them have the right to do so. Those who have commented above, though, that perhaps the right to housing is a better idea than the right to sleep on sidewalks or in public parks is something I strongly agree with.

    When I was homeless, I tried once and only once to sleep on a park bench. It was impossible and I vowed to seek out shelter and housing no matter what it took. I was resourceful and of course lucky; I never slept on sidewalks or in parks. And frankly, just as many homeless families (especially those living in cars) do, one is usually far too busy hustling from agency to agency and from shelter to shelter to resign oneself to just plopping down the pavement. No matter how miserable and destitute I became, I simply could not give up on myself nor on the search for shelter. I never wanted the "right" to sleep on benches or in alleyways; my goal and my best interest was always in finding temporary shelter and eventually permanent housing.

    Thanks for another well-written piece and for sharing what Tom Ammiano is doing legislatively. Tipped and recc'd!

    •  Great comment! (4+ / 0-)

      Glad to have your perspective. Thanks!

      Park benches would seem to be awfully uncomfortable. Back when I was young when I was biking I would sleep on top of picnic tables with a pad.  That seemed to work quite well.  But that's far from being homeless...

      •  You're welcome. And trust me (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jpmassar, FloridaSNMOM

        As someone who's been homeless repeatedly (which I hate to admit), it's a constant hustle. I confess I'm judgmental about people living on the street (which I separate from those I consider "truly homeless", IMHO) who I see in L.A. out hitting everyone up for change/food/booze (yes, booze) because what they don't know is that I have been there.

        The realities of what life is like for those who are truly homeless and destitute and/or those with mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction are so completely different from the many con artists living on the street regularly asking for money and food.

        Hence my genuine and legitimate concerns about what this bill of rights is looking to protect.

        Always good to read your latest diary. Keep up the good work!

    •  It doesn't legalize public drunkenness or (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      public indecency or even creating a public disturbance.

      I never slept on a sidewalk, but I've spent many nights in canyons and some in storm drains.  Sometimes, walking all night and then scratching up a buck for a 2.5 hour bus ride was the best way to go.

      But getting hassled for sitting down to take your boots off and rub your feet after you've been walking for six hours is kind of a pain in the ass.

      As a kid, the last thing I ever wanted was to spend a night any of the "shelters".  I knew too many guys on the street who'd been raped and/or robbed there.

      "Paid Activist" is an oxymoron.

      by JesseCW on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 03:42:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Crass comment sent to KRON yesterday on this. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jpmassar, brook, FloridaSNMOM, aitchdee

    Obvious conservative guy claimed all homeless are addicts, had nasty things to say about SF bleeding heart liberals, then said he couldn't wait until he retired to leave CA.
      Good riddance when you go, guy.  One less ignorant person to drag the rest of us down.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:20:08 AM PDT

  •  This is an excellent start. Thanks, jpm. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jpmassar, brook, JesseCW, aitchdee

    Wish the series of Mayors Mussolini who've run NYC would do something like this.  But, no, they've Disneyfied the city and made the trains run on time.  Homeless folks have nowhere to sleep in winter -- frankly no rights at all when I left the city -- because the various dictators of said city didn't want wealthy commuters to be offended.  Cast them all out of Penn Station in the dead of winter.  Bastards, all.

    "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox." -- Willie Stargell

    by Yasuragi on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:26:22 AM PDT

  •  There are a few spots that I don't support but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jpmassar, brook

    I think most of them are right on and it's sad that they have to be codified into law in order to be recognized.

    I see what you did there.

    by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 11:55:48 AM PDT

  •  Thank You Ca. Legislature, very cool (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    yella dawg, jpmassar

       I replied to Ca Gay Democrats post yesterday and added this to the post today:
        After replying to your post, later that evening I went to the store. There was one of the most fragile amongst us standing enough of a distance off the store's entrance to not get hassled. Didn't say anything, didn't need to. I don't have much money. I handed him a dollar. He Thanked me with the gratitude in his eyes. He dribbled a little spittle. I don't know about drugs, a tiny thought crossed my mind. I don't care, I give & there's a hope in the giving that if for intoxicants, hopefully you'll get to where you've learned or experienced and will say eh "Done with this."
        I came out of the store, gave him 70 odd cents. As I was getting in my car, someone gave him a medium bag of groceries. It kind of overwhelmed him & for 15 seconds he just stood there. He was just the most normal person in the world standing outside a store holding a bag of groceries, beyond the radar of people walking by.
        I'm Thankful my spirits were lifted.
            Thank You, jpmassar for this sweet post.

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