Campaigners push for Homeless Bill of Rights

Give homeless individuals a fair chance, says social justice coalition

A coalition of over 125 social justice groups in the US is campaigning for a Homeless Bill of Rights to be introduced to state legislatures, in an effort to end the criminalisation of people who live on the streets.

Advocates working in Colorado, California and Oregon have argued that local laws have criminalised life-sustaining actions such as sitting or sleeping in public places. They argue that these laws unfairly target those perceived as undesirable, including the homeless, in an attempt to push them out of public spaces.

“Imagine if every shopper in Times Square that sat down got a ticket. It would never happen. It’s so blatantly racist and classist,” Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), told Al Jazeera. He noted that those earmarked for police attention tended to be non-white and dressed in such a way to suggest poverty. “We’re talking about laws that every single person is going to break, but only certain people have the police enforcing the laws against them.”

The coalition has compiled over 1,300 interviews with homeless individuals and said it has identified six priority areas to be included in the Homeless Bill of Rights: the right to move freely and sleep in public spaces without discrimination; the right to sleep in a parked vehicle; the right to eat and exchange food in public; the right to obtain legal counsel; the right to access hygiene facilities 24/7 and the right to use the defence of necessity in any criminal prosecution.

In the coming months, the coalition will work with lawyers to develop the bill based on the most common complaints in each of the three states, and then find state representatives to sponsor the bills for legislative sessions beginning in January 2015.

First published by Al Jazeera