Homeless Bill of Rights

recognizes and upholds the human rights of people who experience homelessness 

The Homeless Bill of Rights (also Homeless Person's Bill of Rights and Acts of Living bill) refers to legislation protecting the civil and human rights of homeless people. These laws affirm that homeless people have equal rights to and freedom from discrimination in:

opportunities for employment,

medical care,

free speech,

access to public spaces,

free movement,

voting,

freedom from undue law enforcement harassment,

housing, and privacy.

A Homeless Bill of Rights is enacted to safeguard the basic rights of people forced to live on the streets

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The US Precedent

For over 20 years, a new movement has been afoot: in June 2012, Rhode Island passed the mainland's first Homeless Bill of Rights. State legislatures in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, Missouri, and Massachusetts quickly followed suit, introducing their own bills. 

 

More than 150 organizations and dozens of states have shown public support for a Homeless Bill of rights and its implementation.

A Homeless Bill of Rights has become law in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and is still being considered in California, Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, and Vermont. 

A homeless person's bill of rights to guarantee that the rights, privacy, and property of homeless persons are adequately safeguarded and protected under the laws of the State.

HBOR (Homeless Bill of Rights, henceforth) legislation has been called "A Revolution", in the US, since 2015, according to this article by Sara Rankin.

Most legislation is modeled after Rhode Island's example and includes some right to:

     (1)  Move freely in public spaces, including on public sidewalks, in public parks, on public  transportation, and in public buildings without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officials, in the same manner as other persons;

     (2)  Have equal opportunities for employment;

     (3)  Receive emergency medical care;

     (4)  Register to vote and to vote;

     (5)  Have personal information protected;

     (6)  Have a reasonable expectation of privacy in one's personal property; and

     (7)  Receive equal treatment by state and county agencies.

Discrimination against the homeless,
a survey

Surveys by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) have documented the impacts of anti-homeless legislation and examples of discrimination by interviewing over 1,300 unhoused individuals.

81%

of individuals reported being "harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping"

77%

said they had been "harassed, cited or arrested for sitting or lying on the sidewalk"

26%

"knew of a safe place to sleep at night".

US States Adopting Homeless Bill of Rights Legislation

Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights
enacted 2012

Title 34
Property

Chapter 37.1
Homeless Bill of Rights

R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-37.1-3
§ 34-37.1-3.  Bill of Rights.

No person's rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged solely because he or she is homeless. Such a person shall be granted the same rights and privileges as any other resident of this state. A person experiencing homelessness:

(1) Has the right to use and move freely in public spaces, including, but not limited to, public sidewalks, public parks, public transportation and public buildings, in the same manner as any other person, and without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status;

(2) Has the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status;

(3) 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;

(4) Has the right to emergency medical care free from discrimination based on his or her housing status;

(5) Has the right to vote, register to vote, and receive documentation necessary to prove identity for voting without discrimination due to his or her housing status;

(6) Has the right to protection from disclosure of his or her records and information provided to homeless shelters and service providers to state, municipal and private entities without appropriate legal authority; and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance with all limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information Systems, the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Federal Violence Against Women Act; and

(7) Has the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.

History of Section.
P.L. 2012, ch. 316, § 1; P.L. 2012, ch. 356, § 1.

Europe's Homeless Bill of Rights Movement

Additionally, as of the end of 2020, the Bill has been adopted by eight European cities – four in Slovenia, three in Spain, and one in Poland.

In SLOVENIA, FEANTSA members translated the Bill of Rights into Slovenian as part of a wider campaign including a public presentation to representatives of the main cities in the country, which lead to four city councils signing it.​

 

• In SPAIN, Barcelona, Móstoles and Santiago de Compostela have publicly endorsed the Homeless Bill of Rights spontaneously without participation of local actors.

 

• In FRANCE, a platform of French organisations working at local level with the homeless initiated a strategy that included homeless people themselves, with the aim to persuade French cities to join them in defending fundamental rights for the homeless.

 

•In POLAND, the city of Gdansk committed to endorsing the Homeless Bill of Rights in a Conference in Warsaw in May 2018.

•In the UNITED KINGDOM, a platform of actors in Brighton are currently working to persuade the Brighton and Hove City Council to endorse the Homeless Bill of Rights.

Utah needs a Homeless Bill of Rights!

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Photo by Robin Pendergrast

The legislative push for a Utah Homeless Bill of Rights is a collaborative effort by:

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Utah nomads surveyed report the following levels of discrimination:

On November 6th, 2022, the Nomad Alliance executed a long survey at the 55th Nomad Supply Drive. While only nine nomads were able to complete their surveys, we are continually updating the numbers.

67%

78%

56%

Access to Public Spaces

Police Harassment

Housing Discrimination

have faced harassment in public places. I.E. restrooms, naps, standing outside.

have faced some sort of police harassment. I.E. Throwing away personal property, Abating camps, forced to leave public areas, Incarceration.

have faced discrimination when trying to apply for housing. I.E. Lack of clean clothes, Hygiene, Income. 

Employment Discrimination

Freedom of Movement

Access to Healthcare

22%

of the nomads who have applied for jobs cannot get employment because of lack of permanent address. 

44%

have faced challenges in getting adequate healthcare. I.E. treated like a drug addict, not taking mental or physical illnesses seriously. 

67%

have their movements restricted. I.E. told of places they can’t go, no camping/sleeping, told to leave public areas. 

22%

33%

44%

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

Privacy

feel they can’t tell or say how they feel. I.E. Controlled language not being able to swear without repercussion, Police not letting them explain their side of story, Workers making them leave without explanation. 

have heard of some sort of human trafficking happening within the community. I.E. Disappearance of nomads and stories on the street of people being kidnapped. 

have had their privacy invaded on a regular basis. I.E. people filming or taking photographs, breaking up camps, police coming into tents. 

"Utah also needs a Homeless Bill of Rights. This document would provide protection for unhoused individuals when their appearance as seemingly unsheltered is judged over their actual actions."

Opinion: Here’s how to really help Utah’s homeless,

by Hanna Hackovich, Mar 1, 2022

Police Harassment

Megan Mohn was killed because she wouldn’t give her name, and brutalized simply because the homeless are treated as a sub-class and targeted by our law enforcement community.

All three of the nomads we housed in micro-homes last February, Gunner, Javier, and Kenny, while interviewed by the ACLU for their recently-published report titled “Displaced and Dispersed: the aftermath of Operation Rio Grande,”said they got stopped and harassed by the police daily while living on the streets.

 

Josie, who was 18 at the time, was groped in both private areas of her body during a warrant sweep of the 500 S. overpass post-tent fire in 2021.

 

63% of the nomads surveyed during a recent drive reported they got harassed by law enforcement at least once over the previous week. On average, they were harassed twice each, over the course of one week. 

Nomad survey responses ...

“We're being stopped by officers for the sole reason of being homeless”

Access to Public Spaces

During the summer of 2021, the Nomad Alliance received reports that the unhoused were prohibited from setting up the barest necessities while sitting or sleeping in public parks and on sidewalks. They were harassed by the police for having the barest shade structure, or sleeping on a simple blanket and pillow, although sleeping directly on the ground was allowed. Any Utah citizen that is housed would never be harassed for taking a nap in a public park during the day. The disparate ways the housed and unhoused are treated by our police, citizens, and public officials is hypocritical.

Were a housed individual to bring a backpack into a gas station, he would be allowed. Too many unsheltered individuals are forced to leave their backpacks full of their most important and prized documentation and possessions outside business establishments, only to have those backpacks stolen. We propose forming a caveat in the proposed Homeless Bill of Rights that would allow the backpacks of the address fluid to sit just inside the front doors, rather than the outside.

The lack of sufficient public toilets coupled with the unsheltered prohibited access to public bathrooms, only leads to incarceration of human beings needing to, well, be human. Salt Lake City Councilwoman told our Executive Director years ago about an indigent client who urinated near a public park in the middle of the night, was observed. by the police, and had been in jail for over a year from that simple crime. 

Nomad survey responses ...

“[They] tell us where we can and can’t go”

Employment Discrimination

Things to note when we consider employment discrimination, is application for employment requires one to list one’s address in every application. This allows easy discrimination when the unsheltered cannot include their address or use the address of a homeless shelter.

Nomad survey responses ...

“[I'm always] kicked out of public parks and libraries”

Receive Emergency Medical Care

Gunner, a 60-year-old veteran we housed in a microhome and later in the basement of a team member, had an epileptic seizure and wound up in the St. Marks Emergency Room. Kseniya, the NA Executive Director, left her phone number with the nurse on staff to call her the second he was to be discharged so she could pick him up. He was discharged while she was en route, and the security guard in the ER waiting room went to kick the lounging, weak Gunner, calling him a "dirty bastard," and to "get out of his Emergency Room," not believing Gunner when he said his ride was on the way. Instead he was forced to wait outside in the cold with the merest of thin sweatshirts. 

Nomad survey responses ...

“Can't use public restrooms…. Can’t stand at some stores”

Silence

a conversation about discrimination in access to public spaces

Silence was one of the first friends we met on the streets. He was chronically homeless for over six years until he chose rehab. He is currently in sober living, complying with parole, ten months sober, and two months employed constructing fences.

When we asked him to please tell us how often he has been prohibited to move freely in public spaces, including public sidewalks, on public transportation, in public parks and in public buildings without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officials, and to give us a story or an example, he had the following to say....

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Nomad survey responses ...

“People drive by and take photos and videos of us”

Protection of Private Property

Tyrheil got out of a two night stay in the hospital where he was treated for an extreme abscess. He came out of the hospital to all his possessions discarded during a recent abatement. He lost his ID, medications, sentimental possessions, survival gear. He gave our Executive Director his Social Security Card, which she carried in the glove box of her car for the following year; Social Security cards have a ten lifetime limit replacement, and Tyrheil was on his eighth card. 

The Nomad Alliance began it's mass identification program to combat the frequency our nomads get their private property abated, losing their identification and corresponding ability to apply for jobs, receive their stimulus payments, or even comply with law enforcement demands to provide ID. We cannot keep up with the requests for ID replacement, not to mention tents, clothing and other possessions our nomads lose during sweeps. 

We request our state ends the hypocrisy of violating the Fourth Amendment "unreasonable search and seizure" protections wherever there is "reasonable expectation of privacy" for our most indigent populations. The Fifth Amendment states that a person may not be deprived of property by the government without "due process of law" or "fair procedures." We are constantly told the notices for abatements are placed well within the 24-hour advanced notification requirement period.