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2 Years in Jail for Sitting on a Milk Crate? The Shocking Ways America Punishes Poor People Living on the Street (Hard Times, USA)

Laws all over the country are designed solely to target the homeless. There are better solutions.

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Balancing the needs of cities and development with humane treatment of the poor is not easy, but one promising development is the emergence of Homeless Bills of Rights, which advocates say they want to turn into a nationwide movement. In 2012 Rhode Island passed the first Homeless Bill of Rights, which says an unhoused inpidual, “Has the right to use and move freely in public spaces, including, but not limited to, public sidewalks, public parks, public transportation and public buildings, in the same manner as any other person, and without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status,” and “Has the right to equal treatment by all state and municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status.” 

Homeless Bill of Rights was recently introduced by Rep. Tom Ammiano in California. In its current form, the bill bars discrimination based on housing status, codifiying the rights of homeless people to engage in "life-sustaining" activities on the street. The thinking behind it is that it's inhumane to arrest someone for sleeping in public, if the city does not provide them with a place to sleep, or for public urination, if the city does not provide public bathrooms. It states the homeless can sleep in legally parked cars and have access to public spaces without police harassment. 

"Right now, there's nothing on the books at the state or federal level to inhibit a local governments' ability to pass laws that discriminate against the homeless, or enforce laws meant to remove people from communities," says Boden, who helped co-write the bill."It's the neoliberal approach to poverty in this country," he says. "Limited charity, a good tax write-off, to those we deem worthy. And we get rid of the rest." 

Protecting the rights of the homeless should be everyone's concern, says Boden. "Today it's homeless people they're going after, but that's not the point. That's today's target. We know from looking at our history that there's always someone who comes next."

 

 

Tana Ganeva is AlterNet's managing editor. Follow her on Twitter or email her at tana@alternet.org.