Last week, Connecticut lawmakers passed the ‚ÄúHomeless Person‚Äôs Bill Of Rights‚ÄĚ at the literal 11th hour ‚ÄĒ 11:30pm on June 5th, one half hour before the legislative session ended. The bill, SB 896, a landmark piece of legislation to protect homeless individuals‚Äô rights, adds homeless people as a protected class who can‚Äôt be discriminated against in employment, housing, or public accommodations. It also includes protections for homeless people to move freely in public spaces, such as parks and sidewalks, without being singled out for harassment by law enforcement officers.
Here are the bill‚Äôs seven protections:
(1) Move freely in public spaces, including on public sidewalks, in public parks, on public transportation and in public buildings without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officers in the same manner as other persons;
(2) Have equal opportunities for employment;
(3) Receive emergency medical care;
(4) Register to vote and to vote;
(5) Have personal information protected;
(6) Have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property; and
(7) Receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies.
This is no symbolic victory, Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, explained. ‚ÄúHomeless people are regularly discriminated against in employment and housing,‚ÄĚ Stoops told ThinkProgress.
Nate Fox, Project Supervisor for Faces Of Homelessness Connecticut, a group that advocated for the bill, hailed its passage. ‚ÄúCurrently, there are certain civil liberties that could be automatically wiped out when you walked into a homeless shelter,‚ÄĚ Fox told ThinkProgress. This bill not only fixes that unintended side effect of shelters and other homeless services, it‚Äôs also ‚Äúchanged the conversation on how to protect homeless persons‚Äô rights,‚ÄĚ Fox said.
The bill now awaits Gov. Dan Malloy‚Äôs (D) signature before it can take effect at its scheduled date of October 1, 2013. It will not only play a major role in preventing discrimination against homeless people; it could also have an effect on municipalities like Hartford which currently have anti-loitering and anti-panhandling ordinances.
If it ultimately becomes law, Connecticut will become just the second state in the nation to enact a Homeless Person‚Äôs Bill of Rights. Last year, Rhode Island became the first state to do so. Illinois could increase the number to three if Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs a bill which passed the legislature recently, and other states like Oregon and Delaware are considering similar legislation.