Public Health Committee
JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT
AN ACT CONCERNING A HOMELESS PERSON'S BILL OF RIGHTS.
JFS To The Floor
SPONSORS OF BILL:
The Public Health Committee
REASONS FOR BILL:
This bill establishes a bill of rights for the state's homeless residents, which includes the right to 1) move freely in public spaces in the same manner as other people and without harassment or intimidation by law enforcement, 2) have equal employment opportunities, 3) receive emergency medical care, 4) register to vote and vote, 5) have their personal information protected and a reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal property, and 6) receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies.
The bill also requires each municipality to create a notice entitled, “Homeless Person's Bill Of Rights” that includes these rights and conspicuously post it in the usual location for municipal notices. The bill specifies that these rights are available only to the extent they are implemented in accordance with state law, rules and regulations; federal law; and the state and US Constitution.
The Substitute language removes the requirement for each municipality to make copies of the notice to members of the public upon request.
RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:
NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:
Rev. Josh Pawelek, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society: While all Connecticut residents' basic rights are already guaranteed by the CT and US Constitutions, it is clear to me, after 15 years into my ministry, that people experiencing homelessness in Manchester and Hartford, such guarantees are at best tenuous, and at times non-existent. Homeless people experience widespread discrimination in public life and seem to have little recourse to address that discrimination. Establishing a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights in our state is a powerful first step to changing this status quo.
Rev. Pawelek supports SB 896 and the revisions suggested by the CT Homeless Human Rights Campaign which have been incorporated into the bill.
Lisa P. Sementilli, Deputy Director, CT Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH): Connecticut's emergency shelters have run at or over 100% of their legal capacity for more than two years. More than 16,000 persons, including children, used our emergency and transitional housing programs last year.
CCEH believes all people experiencing homelessness should be treated with dignity and respect. Homeless people should have access to public resources and connection to community, public parks, transportation and buildings belonging to all of us and be free from harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officers.
Economic opportunity in Connecticut continues to be limited, especially for those with barriers such as disabling health conditions, unstable housing, limited education, or history of trauma or violence that many homeless persons experience. We urge support for expansions of job training and education programs to advance employment and earnings for the most marginalized residents.
CCEH believes that housing should not be used as a reward for compliance with treatment plans, employment success or docile behavior or sobriety. Stable housing is key to a more stable life, better employment and earnings, better compliance with behavioral health treatment, participation in income support programs.
Amanda Girardin, Project Manager, Journey Home: Journey Home is a nonprofit organization that works collaboratively to implement the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in the Greater Hartford region by initiating best practices and innovative, sustainable solutions to prevent and end homelessness.
Denying people services, job opportunities, or entitlements because of a lack of a permanent address, we prolong the length of time they will remain homeless instead of allowing them to reach their potential as productive members of society. We urge the committee to pass SB 896 and refer it to the Housing Committee to be attached to Connecticut's Fair Housing Laws in such a way that will allow for punitive action against those who violate the equal rights of or discriminate against those experiencing homelessness. Just as we fought and succeeded in passing legislation to protect the rights of people on the basis of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability, so should we protect the rights of those who find themselves without a home.
Jackie Alessio, Insitute of Violence Protection & Reduction, University of Connecticut, School of Social Work: Supports the protection of citizens facing homelessness.
CT Homeless Human Rights Campaign: Submitted testimony in support of SB 896.
Rabbi Donna Berman, Executive Director, Charter Oak Cultural Center: We support the efforts of the committee to pass this bill but urge you to pass an amended version that adds more specificity and more protection for those who are homeless. The suggested amended version is patterned after the Rhode Island Homeless Persons' Bill of Rights which was created by a group of people experiencing homelessness and their allies. Please amend SB 896 to model the Rhode Island bill with language that would allow homeless people:
1. To move freely and use of public spaces, including sidewalks, public parks, public transportation and public buildings without harassment or intimidation from law enforcement officers, or others in the same manner as other persons;
2. Equal opportunities for employment, and the right not to face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment;
3. Receive emergency medical care, free from discrimination based on his or her housing status
4. To register to vote and receive necessary documentation to prove identity for voting. The Secretary of State shall provide voter registration identification cards, free of charge
5. Protection from disclosure of his or her records and information provided to homeless shelters and service providers to state, municipal, and private entities without appropriate legal authority and the right to confidentiality of personal records and information in accordance will all limitations on disclosure established by the Federal Homeless Management Information System, Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Federal Violence Against Women Act.
6. Reasonable expectation of privacy with his or her personal property; to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence
7. Receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies without discrimination based on housing status.
Nate Fox, Project Supervisor, Faces of Homelessness Speaker's Bureau: I am advocating for a social turn in how we approach and address homelessness. It's true that supportive and affordable housing are crucial solutions to homelessness; we also need to address the social issues involved just as much as the technical, policy-based issues.
When Rhode Island passed a Homeless Bill of Rights, they did so by amending their Fair Housing Laws to include “housing status” as a protected social category and added the Homeless Bill of Rights as an additional section to their Fair Housing Laws. By doing this, they were able to include the phrase “protect people from discrimination based on housing status” throughout the bill language. We would urge the committee to consider using language similar to the language used in the bill Rhode Island passed.
Sloane Sandler, Homeless Ally: Homeless people are one of the most disenfranchised populations in the world. Individuals living on the street or in shelters are often without essential basic needs such as medical care, a healthy and balanced diet, safety from violent attack and abuse, or the right to fair and affordable housing.
Please protect close to 4,500 homeless individuals in Connecticut. Amend Connecticut's fair housing law to include housing status as a protected category. Amend SB 896 to include language similar to the Rhode Island bill.
NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:
Reported by: Lori Littmann