Senate OKs bill to create “Homeless Bill of Rights”

If enacted, Tassoni measure will be first of its kind in nation

STATE HOUSE – May 29, 2012 – (RealEstateRama) — “It is sad that in a nation as rich as ours, there are still so many homeless people,” said Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield). “Whether that is a long-term or short-term situation, the homeless have a right to access decent accommodations, to obtain employment and to be treated fairly by law enforcement, regardless of their housing status.”

The Senate today agreed, passing and sending to the House legislation sponsored by Senator Tassoni that will establish a “Homeless Bill of Rights” in Rhode Island. If approved by the General Assembly and enacted into law, Rhode Island will be the first state in the nation to adopt such a measure.

“We know what the unemployment rates are and we know that nearly one in two Americans is living near or at poverty level,” said Senator Tassoni. “We have seen stories about the high cost of homeownership and even apartment rent in our state. We know the social safety net keeps shrinking. We can’t just shrug and say ‘too bad.’ We need to do more.”

The “Homeless Bill of Rights,” (2012-S2052A), will guarantee that no person’s rights, privileges or access to public services will be denied or abridged solely because he or she is homeless. The bill will guarantee, in law, that homeless individuals:

— Have the right to equal treatment by all law enforcement agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status, including the right to be free from searches or detention based upon actual or perceived housing status;

— Have the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to lack of a permanent mailing address or a mailing address that is a shelter or social service provider;

— Have the right not to be subject to criminal sanctions for resting or sleeping in a public place in a non-obstructive manner when there is no available and accessible shelter space;

— Have the right to use and move freely in public spaces (sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, public buildings) in the same manner as any other person and without discrimination on the basis of housing status;

— Have the right to emergency medical care free from discrimination based on housing status;

— Have the right to vote, register to vote and receive documentation necessary to prove identity for voting without discrimination due to housing status;

— Have the right to protection from disclosure to law enforcement agencies without appropriate legal authority any records or information provided to homeless shelters and service providers and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance with limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information Systems, the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Federal Violence Against Women Act;

— Have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy of personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.

The legislation sponsored by Senator Tassoni is an outgrowth of the continuing study of the Senate Committee on Housing & Municipal Government that he chairs and efforts of that panel to address the homeless problem in the state. A direct result of those efforts was action taken by the Office of the Governor to re-activate the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and to improve conditions at existing shelters, including Harrington Hall, an emergency overnight men’s shelter in Cranston.

“The work that has been done by the committee, and today’s passage of the ‘Homeless Bill of Rights,’ are gratifying things,” said Senator Tassoni, “but the problem has not been solved. We must keep working, and work harder, to move Rhode Islanders off the street and into more permanent, safe housing. And we must acknowledge that, whatever the reason they have become homeless, these people are our fellow citizens and deserve equal treatment and respect under the law.”

Co-sponsors of the Tassoni bill, which now awaits action by the House of Representatives, are Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick), Sen. Paul V. Jabour (D-Dist. 5, Providence), Sen. James E. Doyle II (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) and Sen. Frank A. DeVall Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence).

An identical House bill, (2012-H7173), sponsored by Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), is currently before the House Committee on Judiciary.

For more information, contact:
Randall T. Szyba, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457

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