Why A Homeless Bill of Rights?
Issues of discrimination against those experiencing homelessness have long been a problem in Rhode Island. Instances of discrimination within the shelter and service systems were addressed with a years-long process creating a standard of care and a way to address grievances and complaints. Criminal actions involving violent attacks on people because of their housing status were addressed with the passage of a law that made it a hate crime to attack anyone simply for being homeless.
Despite these advances, large problems remained. And news reports were constantly coming in from across the country about cities criminalizing homelessness; be it sitting in a park or receiving food outside. While homelessness was increasing and services aimed at ending it were cut, cities were reacting with an attempt to criminalize rather than solve it.
A January 2006 report from The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless called this "A Dream Denied". Following the Great Recession, the NLCHP released a report in 2011 arguing against reacting to the subsequent rise in homelessness by increasing criminalization. Recession-era policies were causing more damage to those falling into homelessness by making them criminals as well.
Inspired by attempts at creating a Homeless Bill of Rights in Illinois and other parts of the country, the directors of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project wrote up a Homeless Bill of Rights for Rhode Island, with the intent of preventing discrimination by police and public transportation officials. The initial version also contained the right to housing. This bill would become part of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless' 2012 legislative agenda.