DIRECTOR'S NOTE: Homeless Bill of Rights

Vincent Flanagan, the outgoing executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project which publishes Spare Change News, testified in favor of the Homeless Bill of Rights last week. Here’s an excerpt from his plea to the assembly at the Massachusetts State House:

Our safety net has a huge hole in it. Trying to survive on what the government gives to people is the reason organizations like ours exist. People need some sort of supplemental income, and because having a job gives you a sense of pride.

The vast majority of homeless individuals and families want to work. They want to have that feeling of being proud, supporting their families and taking care of their children.  They want a home of their own.  Unfortunately, homeless individuals must overcome barriers that housed individuals do not face in seeking employment: most simply, being denied employment for failure to have a phone or a permanent mailing address.

The Homeless Bill of Rights would eliminate this problem.

Your bill would also address the growing problem of criminalization of homelessness.  The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, in conjunction with the National Coalition for the Homeless, published a report called Homes Not Handcuffs. The report focuses on the criminalizing of activities–sleeping, camping, eating, sitting and begging–in public places, as well as loitering and jaywalking. It’s particularly problematic because there is selected enforcement of these laws, aimed at the homeless.

Even more shocking is the criminalization of feeding homeless individuals in public places. It appalls me to think that I can face a criminal fine in these cities, of which there are over 30, for feeding a homeless individual, either as an individual or as part of a food service organization, yet I can give a treat to a dog in a park

with no fear of criminal liability.

This is not the America that I believe in. Once again, the Homeless Bill of Rights would go a long way toward addressing the problem of the criminalization of homelessness.

It’s my very strong belief that the majority of people want the homeless to disappear.  They don’t want to be “bothered” by them.  They feel sorry for them, but they also feel like they are a nuisance.There is this societal desire to have the problem go away, with no willingness to take the steps necessary to end homelessness.

A Bill of Rights is a wonderful idea, and I think it is a strong gesture.

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