Homeless Bill of Rights Proposed in Indianapolis

Indianapolis Councilman Leroy Robinson has sponsored a piece of legislation establishing a “Homeless Bill of Rights” that would mirror an existing Rhode Island law.

Under the bill, the homeless would have the following rights:

1. The right to move freely in public spaces, including sidewalks, parks, buses and buildings.

2. The right to equal treatment by city agencies.

3. The right to be free of employment discrimination for lack of a permanent mailing address.

4. The right to emergency medical care.

5. The right to vote, register to vote and receive documentation needed for a photo ID.

6. The right to protection from disclosure of private records, as well as the right to confidentiality already protected by federal law.

7. The right to the same “reasonable expectation of privacy” for their personal property as someone with a permanent residence has.

The bill is currently viewed as controversial and unlikely to pass. Republican council members have decried the measure, with some deeming it a “feel good” empty gesture, while others questioned the fiscal impact of the bill.

Councilman Michael McQuillen balked at what he perceived to be special privileges being granted to the homeless, commenting “Anyone in Indianapolis has the same rights as you whether or not you own a home. This would give them additional rights — that they can’t be removed from a public property.”

Councilman Robinson disagrees. “Unfortunately, our city goes to great lengths in an effort to criminalize and demoralize the homeless. It is important that we are intentional and explicit in our efforts by indicating that the rights of the homeless ‘will’ be protected, just as any other citizen.”

This measure comes on the heels of a staggering 19 percent surge in homelessness from 2013 to 2014 and leaves questions about whether Indianapolis is willing to take a direct role in housing its citizens, as other cities of its size generally do. Currently, the 1,956 shelter beds available in Marion County are provided by private charities, and some of those charities are on shaky ground with funding, as we’ve seen with the Dayspring Center. Despite this laudable effort from private charities, Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention of Greater Indianapolis (CHIP) estimates that this shelter space falls short of the whopping 7,500 to 9,500 homeless people thought to exist in Indianapolis in 2014.

Councilman Robinson expressed frustration with the reservations of those opposed to the bill “We as a city can give millions and millions of dollars to developers for luxury apartments and condos, parking garages, sporting teams and cricket fields without spending a fraction of taxpayer money to assist those that are most vulnerable in our society,”

Systemic abuse of the homeless is a complex issue and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless reports says that compliance has been a problem with their 2012 law. “Committees have been established to ensure that the law is implemented, but of course, law or no law, harassment and discrimination continue.” Nevertheless, homeless advocacy groups consider these bills to be one important piece of a larger framework to address the ongoing criminalization of homelessness and violence against the homeless.

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