Letter: The Vision for a Homeless Bill of Rights

To the Editor:

This is to make a correction on Adam Sennott’s article entitled “Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights: Is Massachusetts Next?” that was published on June 29, 2012.

The article states, “Along with Senator Tassoni, the bill was put together by John Joyce and Megan Smith, Co-Directors of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project, who used information they had received from people living on the streets of Rhode Island while drafting the bill.”

The bill was actually born out of a critical, ethnographic study that my organization — International Freedom Coalition — conducted of the homeless provider system in Providence from October 2010 to May 2011. The purpose was to understand the shelter client’s lived experiences. As principal investigator, I used covert participant observation to achieve full situational immersion by interacting with providers and accessing services as would a person experiencing homelessness.

Surprisingly, I experienced, observed, and documented homeless service provider staff and security personnel, as a course of conduct, (i) subjecting clients to abuse, harassment, and intimidation as defined in the state’s legal statutes and (ii) administratively neglecting their clients by failing to comply with organizational and federal policies. Additionally, external rental and employment agencies were found to discriminate against shelter clients. No public advocacy or legislative efforts to prevent such abuses in shelters were found, such as those in place for other vulnerable populations in the state (e.g. nursing home patients).

In direct response to these findings, I received a vision for a Homeless Bill of Rights. Led both by spirit and experience, I researched existing laws across the country, drafted a comprehensive anti-abuse and anti-discrimination Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act aka Homeless Bill of Rights based upon this legal research, and lobbied local advocates and elected officials for their support. The New Civil Rights Movement: Equal Treatment for the Homeless was born. We were pleased to learn that our bill inspired local advocates to continue the work we started by adopting and adapting it to become the final, anti-discrimination Homeless Bill of Rights that was signed into law.

For complete details visit:

1. Our study blog entitled “Walk a Week in Your Shoes: Celebrating Strong Families,” which chronicles:
a. the spiritual mission that prompted the research study;
b. the receipt of the initial vision for a Homeless Bill of Rights; and
c. and the first draft of the Homeless Bill of Rights.

2. Our working paper (PDF File size: 9.13MB) published on our website and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) site, which documents:

a. our first presentation of the idea at a community homelessness forum on November 11, 2010 (p. 78);
b. our first private presentation of the initial draft of the bill on November 19, 2010 (p. 77);
c. our first semi-public presentation of the bill on December 6, 2010 (p. 79);
d. our presentation of the bill to the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights on January 20, 2011 (p. 82);
e. our presentation of the bill to the NAACP-Providence Branch on January 24, 2011 (pp. 83-85);
f. our introduction of the bill and sponsorship request to Senator Tassoni on February 24, 2011 (pp. 103-104);
g. our hearing with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights on February 25, 2011 (pp. 102-104);
h. our presentation of the bill to Mayor Taveras and advocates of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable on March 24, 2011 (pp. 105-107);
i. our formal support request to the Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable on February 24, 2012 (can be emailed upon request); and
j. the formal letter of support received from the Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable on May 24, 2012 (can be emailed upon request).

As a professional researcher, I hold myself and my organization to the same journalistic ethics in seeking truth, reporting it, and properly citing sources. As such, I am confident that you will appreciate printing this correction both online and in your print editions, if applicable.

Sapphire Jule King, MAEd
International Freedom Coalition
Founder & President
Houston, TX

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