It is a Friday evening and the bitter 25-degree winter wind is whipping against the parkas of many Minneapolis citizens. While some get to go to a heated home and a bed, many in the Twin Cities are not so lucky.
People experiencing homelessness have to go to multiple shelters a day to secure a bed. In this cold, the shelters fill up rapidly, and it is difficult to be sure that if one has a bed for the evening, tomorrow holds the same promise. If shelters are not an option for the night, 74 percent of people experiencing homelessness do not know of a place that is safe, let alone legal to sleep outside. Not only is it dangerous in the frigid temperatures, but year-round all people deserve the human right to sleep, eat and survive. Instead, they are being criminalized in order to keep the public space clean, safe and to protect the housed.
This treatment is not exclusive to public space. The criminal treatment of people living on the streets expands to shelters and places that provide other services like health, food, rapid rehousing and more. There are strict rules and regulations in these spaces that may not always be clear or are enforced unjustly. Giving an orientation to new people in the shelter is not required by any ordinance. Therefore, there are many rules that could be accidentally broken risking a person’s bed for the evening. While these issues are rampant across the states, a few have taken action to reduce the amount of criminalization and to encourage people in these situations to seek services and housing.
In 2012, Rhode Island passed a Homeless Bill of Rights, a bill listing rights for people experiencing homelessness to protect those whose’ rights are being suppressed by laws that discriminate against them. After Rhode Island passed this bill, many other states – including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont, Missouri and Massachusetts – started to look into creating their own. In Minnesota, the Duluth City Council recently voted to begin researching its own homeless bill of rights. But in a state with some of the nation’s harshest weather, such a measure needs to be available here.
All of these bills vary in each state. Sarah K. Renkin, an associate professor of lawyering skills at Seattle University School of Law, wrote in her 2015 paper “A Homeless Bill of Rights (Revolution)” that most “provide the right to shelter, sustenance or health care, while others incorporate rights against employment discrimination or police harassment.” Basic human needs in states who pass these bills are increasing the amounts of shelter and food provided to those who cannot afford it. By doing so, this allows people experiencing homelessness to feel secure in their basic needs, to move forward with their lives, and to find confidence in their skills and voice.
Enacting these bills is meant to start a conversation and awareness amongst law enforcement, the public and social services in each state as well as give a voice to the voiceless. Many folks do not believe after many attempts to advocate for themselves that they have the power. With the Homeless Bill of Rights, there is a hard copy that can be used to combat this oppression.
Imagine if Minneapolis looked into creating a Homeless Bill of Rights. Stigmas against people experiencing homelessness would begin to naturally lift from our city if legislation like this were to be enacted. It would be a small step, but a step nonetheless. Inequality affects us negatively regardless of class, gender, or race. Let us lift those who are marginalized for the betterment of our community and state.