Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homeless Bill of Rights

If we are going to see the lives of the homeless improve, a first step is to keep government officials (especially city officials) from preventing the homeless doing legal activity.  Things like sleeping in a car or a public park, having access to a bathroom.  Seems pretty basic?  Yet our homeless folks are told to leave the city because a police officer sees them sitting down or laying down on a sidewalk.  They aren't asked to move.  Sometimes they are given a ticket.  Sometimes they are told to vacate the city for 30 days without due process. 

Being homeless is hard enough, with the stress of poverty, and the difficulty of surviving.  It's harder to get off the street.  But it's even harder to do all that and have the government treat you like an enemy because you don't happen to have a place to sleep.  

One way of dealing with this is to have states pass a Homeless Bill of Rights.  Conneticut already passed on this year, which prevents the homeless from being persecuted for being human.  Here's an example of one that WRAP is trying to pass in California and Oregon:

1.     Right to move freely, rest, sleep, & pray and be protected in public spaces without   discrimination.
2.     Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle.
3.     Right to serve food and eat in public.
4.     Right to legal counsel if being prosecuted.
5.     Right to 24-hour access to “hygiene facilities”

This bill, if passed by state legislators, will improve the lot of the homeless tremendously.  It doesn't provide them with any services, but it takes out one of the major stresses of everyday homeless living: wondering if an officer will wake you up and tell you that you have to move on.


lew said...

On the surface this seems great. I do have some questions though.

Where are they going to sleep?
Where are the 24/7 hygiene facilities going to be?
Who is going to clean those facilities? How many are there going to be? Where are they going to be located?

Who is going to foot the bill?

Steve Kimes said...

Thanks for your questions, Lew.

All this bill of rights is saying is that if a homeless person has permission to be in a place, or if they are in a public space, then they will not be harassed. Right now, if a homeless person sleeps in my backyard, I can be fined for it. If a homeless person sleeps on the loading dock of a business that they have permission to sleep at, they can still be roused and told to move by the police. So this bill of rights gives them permission to do so without harassment.

The 24/7 hygiene facilities already exist in every urban area-- they are called public bathrooms. All that has to happen is that they not be locked.

Yes, the cleaning of the public facilities would have to be done because they would be used more frequently. But that is a small price, honestly.

lew said...

Hi Steve,

On the business side I have no problem. If I owned a warehouse and wanted homeless to live on the dock I should have that right. Nobody should be rousted if I give permission. I would agree. They would also have that right unless they do something that takes that right away.

The issue I see is the public area. Having worked in large cities such as NYC, I can attest to the uncleanliness of homeless sleeping areas. That doesn't mean all homeless do not clean up after themselves no more than people with homes do.

To hang out in the parks during the day is not a big deal to me, unless of course a nuisance is being caused. Night time sleeping though, lends itself to the homeless crime whether by them or against them.

I really think the idea should be to get the homeless into a building with amenities though. The building is the responsibility of the homeless and owners to upkeep and such. This way their is a measure of culpability. Their job would be to keep the place clean, look for work etc....

I know work is seemingly harder to get these days, but even menial work would be better than no work.

The whole idea should be to get as many people into real shelter and working towards jobs if possible. A homeless person isn't going to get a job without an address unless it's a miracle of God.

I say this as being somewhat confused, but have to admit, I find this somewhat ironic in your neck of the woods. Portland and such are supposed to be far more progressive than most parts of the country, yet it seems to be even more of an issue there.