Rhode Island Enacts Nation's First 'Homeless Bill of Rights'

Rhode Island made history on June 21 by becoming the first state in the country to enact a "Homeless Bill of Rights."

While some cities have passed legislation criminalizing homelessness, Rhode Island's "Homeless Bill of Rights" states that homeless individuals must not face discrimination that denies them access to rights or services based on their lack of permanent address.

The bill guarantees that homeless individuals:

  • Have the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to lack of a permanent mailing address or a mailing address that is a shelter or social service provider;
  • Have the right to use and move freely in public spaces (sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, public buildings) in the same manner as any other person and without discrimination on the basis of housing status;
  • Have the right to emergency medical care free from discrimination based on housing status;
  • Have the right to vote, register to vote and receive documentation necessary to prove identity for voting without discrimination due to housing status;
  • Have the right to protection from disclosure to law enforcement agencies without appropriate legal authority any records or information provided to homeless shelters and service providers and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance with limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information Systems, the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Federal Violence Against Women Act;
  • Have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy of personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.
  • Have the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status.

"If somebody is sleeping outside on the street in an unobtrusive way, it shouldn't be criminal if there's no room in the shelter system. Cause if the shelters are full, where are people who have no where else to go supposed to go?" said Jim Ryczek, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, applauding the decision.

Hoping to see similar legislation spread to other states, state Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield, said, "Hopefully other states will now pick up the slack and move this all the way across the country to California."

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Al Jazeera's Inside Story Americas: How does the US treat its homeless?

As one state passes a bill of rights for the homeless, others are making it illegal to sleep or beg in public places.

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