Moral Low Ground

US Government

‘The Moral High Ground’: Rhode Island Assembly Approves Homeless Bill of Rights

A homeless man pulls a cart with his belongings in New York’s Flatiron district. (Photo: Mo Riza)

The Rhode Island state legislature has approved a landmark measure designed to protect the state’s homeless residents against discrimination.

Both houses of the Assembly have voted to enact a Homeless Bill of Rights, legislation which guarantees that “no person’s rights, privileges or access to public services will be denied solely because he or she is homeless.”

It is the first such measure to be approved in the United States.

“We’re making history here,” Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., a sponsor of the bill, told reporters after the Senate voted for the measure on Wednesday.

“I think we’ve set the bar high in the US for homeless people, and I’m very proud of that,” he added.

The bill, S-2052, guarantees a person the right to use public sidewalks, parks, transportation and public buildings “without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status.” Also included in the bill is the right to a “reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding personal belongings.

Furthermore, the bill confers the right to seek and keep a job even if an individual lacks permanent housing.

“You’re just looked down on because you’re carrying your life on your back,” John Joyce, once homeless but now co-director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, told Reuters in Providence.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill into law.

Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, welcomed the Rhode Island vote but pointed out that other places in America seem to be headed in the opposite direction.

“This just affirms the rights and existence of the unhoused in America,” he told Reuters.

“It’s important as a standalone piece of legislation but also as it’s juxtaposed with other communities that are in the process of criminalizing homelessness,” he added.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were an estimate 636,000 homeless people living in the United States in 2011.



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