City Homeless Demand Bill Of Rights

Thomas Breen photoVerna spent five years sleeping on the streets after she lost her manufacturing job.

Now living in her own Fair Haven apartment, she’s still haunted by the constant stress, anxiety, and humiliation she felt whenever city police asked her to move from a bench or a sidewalk grate or a stretch of grass downtown where she had managed to fall asleep.

On Monday afternoon, Verna added her voice and her story to a broader call by local homelessness advocates seeking to codify a city “bill of rights” for New Haveners without a home.

Around 40 homeless people and affordable housing advocates gathered with Verna outside City Hall for an hour-and-a-half protest in support of the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and the Resolution to Decriminalize Homelessness. Both proposals would enshrine in city law a homeless person’s rights to enjoy public space and pursue employment, housing, and healthcare opportunities without facing discrimination.

“It’s so good to be able to lay your head somewhere warm,” Verna said on Monday. But those who do not have stable housing, she said, shouldn’t face discrimination just because of that lack.

Both proposals are currently before the Board of Alders Human Services Committee of the Board of Alders. Committee Chair and Westville Alder Darryl Brackeen, Jr. said he is waiting for the city’s Corporation Counsel to finish a legal review of both proposals before holding public hearings and voting on the items.

The Bill of Rights enumerates board goals, as does the resolution, which seeks to have officials and citizens “respect” homeless rights.

“Each year Mayor Harp and the Board of Alders work to ensure the City of New Haven remains sympathetic to issues faced by homeless residents, and to the concerns of homeless advocates,” city spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said in an email statement on Monday afternoon. “New Haven’s annual budget appropriates more than $1 million for homeless services, through which the city’s non-for-profit service partners provide shelters, transitional housing, meal programs, counseling, and other assistance programs. The mayor and the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel have been tracking this initiative as it works its way through the legislative process.”

Click here and here to download the proposed legislation.

Monday’s protest was led by members of Housing Not Jails, a homeless-rights initiative of the Connecticut Bail Fund that is also part of the larger affordable housing advocacy group, the Room for All Coalition.

“Homelessness is not a stigma,” said Sade, a homeless New Havener who served as the MC for the event. “Everyone is at risk of being homeless.” She cautioned that many New Haveners are one paycheck or one injury or one mistake away from losing their homes and sleeping on the streets.

Her fiance and fellow Housing Not Jails organizer Donny enumerated the various rights included in the proposed legislation, which builds off of a statewide Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights that Connecticut’s legislature adopted in 2013.

The first right is the right to enjoy public space without being harassed by the police.

“No matter where we’re at,” he said, “we get questions about everything: What you doing? Where you going? Why you here? It’s not right.”

He said the bill also calls for freedom from employment, healthcare, and voting discrimination just because of a person’s housing status.

“We can’t vote ‘cause we homeless,” he said. “Got people on parole and probation who can’t vote.”

He called for the right to the protection of homeless people’s personal property and privacy, saying that police officers continually seize and search his and other homeless people’s bags on the Green. “We can’t walk 10 feet without having cops harass us about our bags,” he said.

He said homeless people should be able to sit on the Green for as long as they’d like, so long as they are not causing any trouble.

He and Sade said that homeless people should have access to safe shelters that allow for entire families to stay together.

“There are family shelters, but men cannot go,” Sade said. “There are men who would love to be with their families. Why can’t they be with their families? Why should they have to be split up?”

Donny added that homeless people are all too often barred from housing opportunities because of background checks that disqualify those with criminal records.

“Please, help us get this Bill of Rights passed,” he said. “Everybody else has them. Why cant the homeless has them, too?”

In addition to Donny and Sade, a half-dozen other currently or recently homeless New Haveners shared their stories to the larger call for legislative action.

“I was working on my job, got hurt, the bills added up, and I ended up on the streets,” said Verna, a 35-year-old from Waterbury who lost her job making brake pads and ended up on the streets of New Haven. She now lives in an apartment in Fair Haven thanks to the help of the local social service provider Columbus House. But, she said, she still shudders at the shame and anxiety she felt living on the streets and shuffling from place to place to sleep each night.

Alik, a 40-year-old New Havener who has been homeless for two years, said he spent four months in the Whalley Avenue prison because of a charge of assaulting a police officer during an altercation on the Green. He said he was ultimately released when police body camera footage showed that he was not at fault in the interaction.

“We need a new system,” he said, “Cause this system’s broken.”

Homeless rights activist Bealton Dumas compared the proposed bill of rights to a sledgehammer that will knock down barriers of discrimination and stigma currently preventing city homeless people from living lives of dignity as they try to secure stable housing.

“Don’t stereotype,” he said. “Don’t pass judgment.” Everyone is just a small slip away from homelessness themselves, he said.

The Connecticut Bail Fund’s Brett Davidson also pleaded with those listening to not stereotype or negatively profile someone just because they are homeless.

“We should have a system where everyone has a roof over their head at night, and no one has to live in fear of law enforcement,” he said. “But that’s not the reality that we live in right now.”

So as long as there are homeless people in this city, he said, they deserve to have the same basic human rights that people with houses have, and those rights should be protected by city law.

Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights

Below is an excerpt from the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights. Click here to download the full proposal.

Every person, regardless of their housing status, has the following rights:

a) The Right to Enjoy Public Space. The right to use and move freely in public spaces, including sitting, lying down, sleeping, or resting in public spaces, both individually and while assembling in groups, which shall include but not be limited to public sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, and public buildings, in the same manner as any other person or groups and without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status;

b) The Right to Employment Fairness. The right not to face discrimination in seeking, obtaining, or maintaining employment due to the lack of a permanent residence or a permanent mailing address, or because the mailing address is that of a homeless shelter, or a homeless or social services provider;

c) The Right to Medical Care and Dignity in Meeting Basic Needs. The right to medical care, free from discrimination based on housing status. The opportunity to perform basis needs, such as to defecate, urinate, and to access clean water and other living necessities, in public locations and facilities, which includes public parks and buildings, with dignity and relative privacy under hygienic circumstances and conditions, in clean, safe, highly accessible facilities, free to all persons regardless of housing status;

d) The Right to Vote. The right to vote, register to vote, and receive any documentation required by law to prove identity for voting, without discrimination due to housing status;

e) The Right to Personal Property and Privacy. The right to protection of personal property includes: 1) the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence; and 2) the preservation and safeguarding of un-housed peoples’ property, including personal identification and records, including documentation of government benefits, legal proceedings, and familial records;

f) The Right to Personal Safety. The right to personal safety, which shall include protection from violence based upon housing status and effective law enforcement response to such incidents; 2) the right to temporary shelter during extreme (hot or cold) weather; and 3) the right for families to stay together in shelters.

g) The Right to Sit. The right to sit, rest or sleep in temporary shelter, such as any legallyparked motor or recreational vehicle or a self-erected shelter (e.g., a tent), as permitted by law, for the purpose of immediate survival of persons, and their pets, without harassment by law
enforcement officers or others; and 2) the right to reasonable notice before encampments illegally created are swept.

h) The Right to Social Exchange. The right to give and accept food, beverages, and shelter, in public spaces or elsewhere (with permit, as others are required, where applicable), and to connect persons experiencing homelessness with organizations that provide shelter or transitional
housing and social services, such as mental health or substance abuse counseling, medical care, and employment assistance. The right also to panhandle in public spaces, and to communicate to others in other reasonable ways for other similar purposes.

i) The Right to Equal Treatment. The right to equal treatment under the law by all New Haven municipal agencies, without discrimination on the basis of housing status or source of income, and equal protection of the laws and due process by law enforcement and prosecuting agencies
and the courts;

j) The Right to Housing Fairness. The right to obtain housing free from discrimination including based on housing status, source of income, arrest record, conviction, or lack of a fixed or permanent mailing address;

k) The Right to Housing. The right to safe and affordable emergency and/or transitional shelter and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, because housing is a basic human right, as stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the
right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services,and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Resolution Concerning The Decriminalization Of Homelessness

Below is an excerpt from the Resolution Concerning The Decriminalization Of Homelessness. Click here to download the full proposal.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Alders of the City of New Haven, Connecticut affirms the rights of those experiencing homelessness and condemns the criminalization of homelessness.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Alders calls upon all City officials, employees, and private citizens to respect the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness, to include the review of police protocols and responses to ordinances affecting those who are homeless, with
the involvement of the Chief Administrator’s Office and appropriate New Haven Police Department personnel in the development of any changes, revisions or recommendations regarding such ordinances.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Alders calls upon the Mayor of New Haven to issue a moratorium on the enforcement of laws criminalizing homelessness, pending the aforementioned review of ordinances affecting those who are homeless.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Clerk communicate this resolution to all City Departments, the Courts, the Governor and Attorney-General of the State of Connecticut, and the Connecticut Congressional delegations.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the provisions of this Resolution shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this Resolution is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be contrary to the the Constitution of the United States or of the State of
Connecticut or the applicability thereof to any agency, person, or circumstances in held invalid, the validity of the remained of this Resolution and the applicability thereof to any agency, person or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.

Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch Monday’s protest.

 

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Comments

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on December 17, 2018  6:08pm

This is not my area of expertise, so I do not feel confident offering either support for this effort or alternative ways to address the issues presented by this group. Perhaps with more information, I’d be able to make an informed decision.

Those interested in this topic may find these two papers of interest:

https://newhavenurbanism.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/The-Homelessness-Muddle.pdf

blob:https://wordpress.com/b1790ebf-9603-4416-a709-404453f1c11f

posted by: fcastle1984 on December 17, 2018  6:50pm

I just want to make sure I understand this correctly…

A) Right to Enjoy public space- so a person, or group of people can lie down and take a nap on the sidewalk? So let’s just say the City approves this. Let’s also say that a citizen is walking on a sidewalk where a slew of homeless people “sleeping” and now pedestrian have to walk in the road so the homeless group can enjoy their Rights to sleep on the sidewalk.

According to CGS 53a-182, that gathering of homeless people is Disorderly Conduct because it “obstructs vehicular or pedestrian traffic”. So are the homeless people now above the law? Also, if they are, and I as a taxpaying pedestrian going to be cited for jaywalking because I walk in the road to avoid stepping on homeless people in their new “bed” ? Also, if I get hit by a car, whose liable?

B) Anyone looking for a job and trying to maintain a job should be protected.

C) public locations and facilities needs to be defined. Citizens and taxpayers shouldn’t have to be forced to watch people defecate and urinate in public. That needs to be clearly defined. Also, businesses should not be forced to allow homeless people to use their premises just because. Can you imagine the businesss high-end restaurants would lose because homeless people are in and out using the bathrooms? I get the human rights part, but if people are paying $200 meal, they also deserve to enjoy it without encountering people they dont want to. Businesses will close if that becomes the case. Rich people can spend money in smaller towns and not have to deal with that. Lets not hurt our already taxed to death business owners. If we continue hurting them,  theyll close down and we’ll lose the jobs they employ our citizens with!

D) Right to vote- as long as theyre legally eligible, why not! People should not be disenfranchised just because they’re homeless.

posted by: wendy1 on December 17, 2018  8:06pm

This is my area of expertise and I dont know why Bret or anyone else didn’t tell me about this demo.  I should have been there.  Sade is right, anyone can find themselves homeless including me.  This is the worst city problem but the city gov. still does nothing so next year I will run for mayor against Toni and her trolls.  I hope others run so we can debate unlike the last election.

I support the above mentioned Bill of Rights and the Housing First approach, all of which would take the current burden off of police, social workers, jails, and prisons, etc.  The streets would be cleaner and a little happier.  Our town is a cruel place for many of our fellow humans.  This affects community morale.

posted by: BevHills730 on December 17, 2018  8:32pm

Thanks for the link John. 

A Yale Law School author arguing that people won’t work if they aren’t faced with the threat of being homeless.  A cruel and rationally foolish argument based on sloppy empirical comparisons from an out-of-touch professor who has likely never had to experience material hardship a day in his life.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 17, 2018  8:37pm

fcastle,

Nice way to jump to extremes to hide your contempt for the less fortunate.

Some ‘public amenities’ in ‘pubic spaces’ would go a long way and has been a long time coming, but there has been no ‘movement’ on that tissue. 

These ‘marginalized people’ just can’t be trusted to care of things, you know!  Look at them pissing on the trees!!!

It would just be mayhem, I tell you! 

In the meantime, City Hall is Open. 
They have plentiful ‘flush buckets’.

Now that Starbucks has moved up the street to a more desirable location, 165 Church is the nearest Public Facility!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 17, 2018  10:44pm

The sad thing here in this state and other states is they do not have a law like .New York has is a Right to Shelter Policy Due to the fact that Article 17 of the New York State Constitution required the government to care for people in need – and that providing adequate shelter.

Today’s Read: Behind New York’s Right to Shelter Policy
Posted on October 5, 2015 by Jacquelyn Simon

The right to shelter was established in 1979, when the lawyer Robert Hayes teamed up with Kim Hopper, Ellen Baxter and other activists to bring a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homeless New Yorkers (and to found the Coalition for the Homeless). The argument was that Article 17 the New York State Constitution required the government to care for people in need – and that providing adequate shelter was part of that obligation. The lawsuit resulted in the parties agreeing to the “Callahan Consent Decree” establishing the legal right to shelter for homeless single men and guaranteeing certain conditions and standards in the shelters. Subsequent lawsuits established the right to shelter for single women and for families with children.

http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/todays-read-behind-new-yorks-right-shelter-policy/

posted by: TheMadcap on December 17, 2018  10:46pm

Citizens and taxpayers shouldn’t have to be “forced to watch people defecate and urinate in public. That needs to be clearly defined. Also, businesses should not be forced to allow homeless people to use their premises just because.”

Well, then where do people do their business?

posted by: wendy1 on December 17, 2018  11:17pm

Thank you BevHills and Bill Saunders—loved your comments.  Prof. Robt. Ellickson at the Law School will be hearing from me.  He should read Evicted, Nickled and Dimed, American Prison, The Fire Next Time just for a start.  And I have to say even I can write better than him—-“The Untenable Case for an Unconditional Right to Shelter” is an uncomfortable read.  I dont understand what this guy is doing in a progressive school like Yale Law.  There must be a school for curmudgeons somewhere that could really use this guy.

Yesterday there were 3 articles in the TIMES predicting market crash and recession for 2019.

posted by: fcastle1984 on December 17, 2018  11:22pm

E)The right to privacy- if drug user is high, their bags would be checked for weapons before loading them into the ambulance. This is done for safety reasons. Ive heard of guns making ways into the hospital because the high person wasn’t checked properly.

What is proposed would making checking bag to need a search warrant. That would actually hinder care, but who can say?

F) the Right to keep families together in shelters- what would happen if the person is a convicted sex offender. Do we really want to house them with women and children?

G) The right to sit. Sleeping in vehicles isnt an issue. But lets say, they park at walmart and theyre legally parked. If walmart has no solicitation and no loitering signs posted, what would happen if an officer asked them to leave? Harassment needs to be defined. What if the homeless person immediately gets angry with the officer and says, “you’re only bothering me because Im homeless”. What then? John Q Homeless then filed a complaint and then tries to sue the city for “harassment”. More lawsuits against the City. While they might not be sustained, why should I have to pay for them? What does the taxpayer always get screwed. Language matters.

H) the Right to social exhange- Im all for the panhandling, I dont even care. When people are walking im the road and holding up traffic, why should I be forced to wait? Ill be honest, I dont care if bleeding heart liberals want to giveaway money to drunks and junkies falling over on the side of the road. I do get annoyed when it causes me inconvenience, though, and rightfully so. I respect the givers 1st amendment rights to give away their money and also the “homeless” persons right to ask for it. If someone is stupid enough to give it away, thats on them.

Reminds me of the guy who used to panhandle off Exit 6. “Homeless, hungry, please help” I saw him buying natty lite at Rani’s one night with his winnings. He drives a honda and lives in west haven. Keep giving him money!

posted by: BevHills730 on December 17, 2018  11:44pm

“ I get the human rights part, but if people are paying $200 meal, they also deserve to enjoy it without encountering people they dont want to.“

Why is it then that I always have to share space with stuffy rich people who I don’t want to encounter when I go out to a nice meal?

posted by: narcan on December 18, 2018  12:33am

Nobody has “criminalized” homelessness. Lacking a permanent residence isn’t a crime.

Piling up belongings on a public bench for months at a time, preventing its use by others, is certainly a nuisance though.

Camping out and trashing bus stops, making them unavailable for people actually wishing to wait for a bus is problematic.

Urinating and defecating on benches, churches, trees…anywhere really… in full view of anyone happening by is unsanitary. It doesn’t happen because “there are no public toilets”. It happens because there are no public toilets in a particular location of easy access to services, and more to point, vices where this crowd closes to be.

Nobody gets a pass on drinking or getting high in public because they have a mortgage.

Which leads us invariably to fighting, domestics, assaults, drug and pill sales, thefts, robberies, etc.

It’s ridiculous that some people want to excuse their antisocial behavior on not having a mailing address.

posted by: fcastle1984 on December 18, 2018  12:36am

I) right to equal treatment- everyone deserves to be treated fairly and respectfully. People should not be treated with disrespect because they’re poor. I believe everyone can agree with this.

J) housing fairness- I agree with most of this. Although there should be caveats. I dont believe sex offenders should be housed with women and children.

K) Right to housing- its a good premise. People need to own responsibility for their own destiny. The public should notbbe forced to bare the burden of drunks and junkies flopping out all day. Why should someone who works two jobs be forced to subsidize someone who contributes nothing and is able bodied? Thats like putting dessert on someone elses tab. Look at the OD crisis over the summer.

And finally, Bill Saunders. I have no contempt of malice toward the less fortunate. I don’t hate the rich, I don’t pity the poor. Im simply questioning the language of this BOR, the impacts it may have, the different standards it creates, and expressing my own political beliefs.

This, my friend, is the cornerstone of democracy. I honestly believe you care about people. I also honestly believe you’re biased toward more liberal points of view and political arguments.

I’m more a libertarian myself. I don’t believe the government should be in people’s bedrooms and I don’t care if someone’s gay or lesbian. I also don’t believe in taxing people to the point of moving out of state because people can’t afford to live here anymore. I also believe the “Republican” President, DJT, has committed treasonous actions and if indicted and found guilty, should be thrown in prison. Lock him up!

I don’t want to speak for you, but I believe you care about the city and the country. So do I. We have different ideas how to make it better. Let’s not make villains of each other.  We can respectfully disagree and still add to the discourse.  Tarring each other drags us to Trump’s level. One which I find distasteful.

posted by: robn on December 18, 2018  7:02am

Compassion for the homeless is feeding and housing them. It’s not tolerating public drunkenness, swearing and urinating in public places such as it’s no longer a place where you can walk children through the area. It’s not having to avoid hiking trails in our parks because of trash strewn encampments and the possibility of stepping on a discarded needle. These activists and their enablers need to get a grip.

posted by: cunningham on December 18, 2018  10:03am

“In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.”

posted by: ShadowBoxer on December 18, 2018  11:54am

I have read the enumerated “rights” and would support all of them with the sole exception of the first one.  So people - and groups of people - can squat anywhere, anytime, for any length of time?  I rather like the center of the New Haven green, can I set up camp there an adverse possess it?

I had an experience where I wrestled with my own conscience.  Each summer, some people colonize the New Haven green, and sit all day and all night and seeing as they bothered no one, I only wished them well.  But soon, they started erecting large patio umbrellas, and lugging used sofas, small pools, ping pong tables, and other large furniture onto the green for weeks at a time.  The green looked like a flea market.  This is not acceptable.  I was hesitant to call the city.

What I do think is that NH should make it clear when and where to go to get shelter.  I have lived here for ten years, and would not know what to do, where to go, whom to ask if I suddenly were homeless or needed shelter.  The cold today only had me thinking more about this. 

Just like we have a Visitor’s Info booth downtown on the corner of College and Chapel, why not have a booth, or some destination for people to go to fine the nearest shelter?  Or a billboard that simply says “Homeless?  Need Shelter?  Call #” or ‘Go to XYZ Place.” 

Do any readers know a user friendly, easy way for a homeless person to find IMMEDIATE shelter, no questions asked?  Maybe the editor could post it here?  I would gladly make flyers.

But people with an absolute “right” to sit and sleep anywhere, anytime, is not practical.  The alders should focus on informing the homeless where adequate shelter is.  I would be happy to help.

posted by: Ben Howell on December 18, 2018  1:23pm

ShadowBoxer - the state & United Way maintain https://www.211ct.org/ as a (virtual) one-stop location for safety net resources (shelters, housing, drop-in centers) etc.

Hopefully folks can see that what is described as “nuisance” or “quality of life” issues which they feel are unacceptable (public defecation/urination, drinking/drug use, sleeping) are directly related to lack of housing first options & the restrictions on housing that poorly treated addiction, under-treated mental health issues, & criminal justice history create. They don’t exist in a vacuum separate from each other. Let alone seeing the relationship to issues around employment opportunities & entrenched cycles of poverty. 

Here’s a good summary of the principles behind Housing First - https://endhomelessness.org/resource/housing-first/

For what it’s worth, the VA has done an impressive job reducing to arguably “eliminating” homelessness among veterans in Connecticut. What it takes is leadership & investment in resources - low-barrier housing, very active case workers, and low barrier mental health & addiction treatment - in addition to transition services for people leaving prison & jail. (https://thehill.com/homenews/news/414436-number-of-homeless-vets-declined-in-last-year)

posted by: katayers on December 19, 2018  9:53am

I wish I knew about this rally in advance, too.  It seems to me that a lot of commenters are missing that the point of the request is just EQUAL rights for people without a home address. 

from the very first item: “...in the same manner as any other person or groups and without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status”

in that if I look a certain way I can sit on a park bench all day, with a shopping bag, and remain unharassed, but if I look like I might not have a home address, I can be told to move along, have my possessions searched, etc…

Is it so offensive to ask for equal treatment?

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 19, 2018  3:51pm

fcastle,

Thank you for coming out and clarifying your positions.

The word I find troubling in your explanation is “Libertarian”, which has too many ‘negative connotations’ attached to it, like xenophobia and racism. If this is your ‘political leaning’ (which you are entitled to), I hope you understand the negative connotations of that ‘affiliation’, and how that might ‘undercut’ your ‘stated position’, especially here in a ‘Progressive’ leaning city like New Haven.

It sure sounds good though!
Me, I’m a humanist!