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Homeless Bill of Rights-What Is It and Who Has Them?

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“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats it’s weakest members”
Mahatma Ghandi

This saying is often touted as a core belief of the Democratic party.  Personally, I’m not sure how true it is, but I DO think it’s important as a society for us to care for the despondent, the destitute, the discouraged, and the depressed.  Life is hard, and it’s even harder if you have to go it alone (believe me, I know).  When we’re  up, I think it’s important just as people to reach down to those that aren’t up, and lend a hand.  After all, you never know when it will be you that’s down and needs help.  How many of us are just a car accident, pink slip, or lay-off away from joining the ranks of the lower class?  One of the core tenets of our society should be a desire to see our fellow Americans do well, and we should help each other whenever possible.

I’m writing this as something of an antithesis to my recent article on private prisons and how some cities and states are making homelessness a crime.  This article will focus on the flip side of that coin; states that do right by their poor-or at least try to.  These states have done or have proposed doing the opposite of criminalizing homelessness: they gave the homeless a set of rights.  They treated their homeless with decency, showed concern for their poor, and moreover they gave them respect.  These states embody the American ideal that all are born equal and deserve to be treated equally as well.

Rhode Island was the first state to pass a homeless bill of rights, with S 2052, voted in June 12, 2012 and signed into law by Governer Chafee June 20, 2012. Rhode Island’s bill specifically outlined several rights of ALL people, addressing concerns of the homeless community with each point.
-that EVERYONE in the community, including the homeless, had an equal right to the use of public spaces, including sidewalks, parks, and transportation.
-that they should receive equal treatment from state and city municipalities.
-that they need not face discrimination when searching for employment due to their lack of a permanent mailing address, or their use of a shelter as their mailing address.
-that they had the right to emergency medical care
-that they had the right to vote, register to vote, and receive the proper identification to enable them to vote.
-the right of a reasonable expectation of privacy of their personal property as if it were personal property in a permanent house.

The bill was sponsored by 5 Democratic state senators (Frank A. Devall Jr., James E. Doyle II, Paul V. Jabour, Erin P. Lynch, and John J. Tassoni Jr.) and lauded as a model for the nation by many.   In the embedded video, you can see John Joyce; co-founder of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and co-author of the bill praising it, and lawmakers for passing the landmark legislation.  At the celebration for the signing of the bill, co-sponsor, state senator, and one of the main driving forces behind the bill John Tassoni (D) said “Hopefully other states will now pick up the slack and move this all the way across the country to California”.  Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t…

Since the passage of the Rhode Island version of the Homeless Bill of Rights, both the Connecticut and Illinois legislatures have passed similar bills.  Both sit awaiting just a gubernatorial signature and implementation.  Connecticut’s is scheduled to go into effect October 1, 2013, while there is no known timetable for the bill’s implementation in Illinois.  In December 2012, similar legislature was introduced to the California assembly as well.  Debate was postponed until January 2014, but if passed Tassoni’s hopes will have reached some stage of fruition, realizing his goal of moving across the country to California.  Hopefully it doesn’t stop there, and bills like this are eventually written into the laws of all 50 states, so we can once again become a nation that claims to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Let us all follow the lead of Rhode Island and remember what it is to be American, as we lift our lamps besides the golden door.

This is a picture of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty known as “The New Colossus”, and written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. It wasn’t mounted on the statue until 1903, but it remains there today, a symbol of what America stands for: a place for equal opportunity for ALL.
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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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