Rhode Island lawmakers pass 'homeless bill of rights'

[JURIST] The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday passed a bill [S 2052 text, PDF] that is designed to affirm the rights of homeless individuals and prevent discrimination. The "Homeless Bill of Rights" was passed to ensure that "no person should suffer unnecessarily or be subject to unfair discrimination based on his or her homeless status." Among the rights ensured by the bill are the right to move freely in public spaces and on public transportation, the right to obtain identification and register to vote, and the right to be free from harassment by law enforcement. It also forbids employment discrimination based on homeless status and grants a "reasonable expectation of privacy in ...personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence." Supporters of the bill say it is the first law of its kind [Providence Journal report] in the US. The bill will now pass to Governor Lincoln Chafee [official website] for final approval.

States have struggled to define the rights and responsibilities of the homeless. In April the US Department of Justice [official website] found that ordinances criminalizing homelessness may violate human rights [JURIST report] as well as the Fourth and Eighth Amendments [text]. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in 2008 that current state laws regarding sex offenders are unconstitutional as applied to homeless people [JURIST report]. The state court determined that the law, which did not permit listing "homeless" as an acceptable address, "[did] not give homeless sexual offenders without a residence address fair notice of how they can comply with the statute's registration requirement." In 2008, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that his administration had reached a settlement [press release' JURIST report] in a long-standing lawsuit over homeless families' right to use shelters throughout the city. The main lawsuit, McCain v. Koch [decision], was initially filed in 1983 by the Legal Aid Society [official website]. As that lawsuit progressed through the court system other complaints were filed, prompting the city to declare a right to shelter [Coalition for the Homeless report, PDF] which was enforced through the court system. The new agreement allowed the City to resume complete control in setting its policy for dealing with its estimated 9,000 homeless families.

 

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