On a sunny Saturday morning in Los Angeles, activists, organizers and members of the Skid Row community and other communities experiencing high rates of homelessness jointly re-launched the campaign for a Homeless Bill of Rights in California.As we sat in the courtyard of the Young Burlington Apartments, a community-driven development providing permanent housing for formerly homeless youth, we heard clear articulations of the challenges facing homeless residents and the need for a Homeless Bill of Rights from panelists Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), John Jackson of Hunger Action LA, Adam Rice of the LA Anti Eviction Campaign and Joe Thomas of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) and from the Skid Row community.
The Housing Program at NESRI is working closely with two partner organizations – the Los Angeles Community Action Network and the Western Regional Advocacy Project – to support directly-impacted communities working on the California Homeless Bill of Rights campaign. A Homeless Bill of Rights was introduced in California earlier this year– Assembly Bill 5 – and made good headway before being tabled by the Appropriations Committee in May. Community members gathered at the LA launch event to collectively strategize for the bill’s reintroduction in January 2014. Homeless residents across California face being fined and arrested for sitting or sleeping in public spaces, eating food in public or sleeping in a legally parked car. Many cities are passing ordinances specifically targeting homeless residents, urged and lobbied to do so by Business Improvement Districts and other business alliances on the assumption that the wealthy consider the visible evidence of the poverty, exacerbated by privatization and gentrification, unacceptable in "their" space. The Homeless Bill of Rights would protect community members experiencing homelessness from the increasing criminalization they face for conducting the most basic, self-sustaining, ordinary daily activities – activities we all engage in.
Largely unfettered gentrifying forces have already resulted in increased homelessness, accompanied by a tyranny of manufactured discomfort and a reduction in access to essential services. The threat of intensifying criminalization by hostile and over-zealous law enforcement adds to a climate that already falls far short of meeting the fundamental human needs and basic human rights of individuals and communities facing homelessness and inadequate housing. It is against this backdrop that communities across California are organizing to stem the tide of a constant assault on the human rights of communities with low incomes and high rates of homelessness.
The California Homeless Bill of Rights would, amongst other things, guarantee the following basic rights:
1. the right to move freely, and to rest, sleep and pray in public spaces without discrimination;
2. the right to occupy a legally parked vehicle;
3. the right to eat and serve food in public;
4. the right to 24-hour access to “hygiene” facilities; and
5. the right to counsel if being prosecuted for infraction citations.
As activists reflected on discussions within their communities to build support for the Homeless Bill of Rights, questions of how public money is spent, on what, for whom and with what degree of accountability are ones they identified as being frequently asked. As campaign meeting attendee, and LA CAN member, Isaac said:
“Fighting for the rights of the unhoused is absolutely essential because the unhoused are among the most marginalized in our society. Most of us know that the priorities in our society are in direct contradiction to human needs. All the money and resources that go to war, policing, and the prison industrial complex need to go to meet people’s basic needs, like shelter, food and clothing. But until we get those resources, the rights of unhoused people need to be protected.”
The passage of this bill is extremely important as it will offer much-needed protection to California’s besieged homeless residents. It is also another step in a long trajectory of organizing to defend and secure human rights in California and beyond. While building momentum for the California Homeless Bill of Rights, LA CAN, WRAP and allied organizations are working to ensure that the threads that tie together homelessness, the increasing lack of access to truly affordable housing, the privatization of public housing, the assault on basic services for low income individuals and families, and the increasing influence in public policy of corporate actors are all part of the discussion and are working to secure the broader solutions we need in order to meet our communities’ fundamental needs.
To get involved with the campaign in LA, contact Becky, Steve or Eric of LA CAN at 213 228 0024. To get involved in the Campaign elsewhere in California or in Oregon (also working on a Homeless Bill of Rights), contact Paul Boden of WRAP at 415 621 2533.
Watch a video of the launch here.