DC City Council Passes Legislation Giving Rights to Homeless People: First Legislation in the United States Aimed at Lifting the Stigma of Homelessness

By HR Harris,
Special at AFRO

Last month, the DC City Council passed the Human Rights Improvement Act to amend the Human Rights Act of 1977. The bill makes it harder to discriminate against homeless, making homelessness a protected class in Washington, DC.

Homelessness advocates and DC Council members have sought to push through some form of protection for its homeless citizens for years. The legislation would allow people who find themselves on city streets, like John Alley, to apply for housing without discrimination – a major barrier faced by people living with homelessness. Signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC would become the first city in the nation to pass such legislation.

Three years ago, Alley developed a brain tumor and became homeless after being unable to work due to visual impairment.

Alley was a vendor for StreetSense, a publication produced by and for the homeless. He got a voucher from the city to find accommodation and thought things would be better.

He was wrong.

“I was shocked,” Alley said after delivering the voucher to an apartment complex where he knew housing was available. The apartment manager refused Alley, even though he was legally obligated to accept the voucher, Alley said.

The legislation would protect homeless people from discriminatory practices, force law enforcement to undergo awareness training, incorporate educational and awareness training, and establish employee protections for homeless people from workplace harassment.

Although Bowser has yet to sign the Human Rights Improvement Act earlier this month at a ribbon cutting for a new 40-bed LGBTQ+ shelter for unaccompanied adults, Bowser touted the need to provide shelter to over 5,000 people living on the streets. of the District, affirming the right of the group to obtain permanent housing.

“We are proud to cut the ribbon for a shelter that embodies our DC values ​​as well as our commitment to making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” Mayor Bowser said.

“We’re removing barriers to housing, building community, connecting residents to the trauma-informed services they need to live healthy, happy lives, and putting Washingtonians back on the path to permanent housing,” Bowser said. .

District data shows a decrease in the number of people living in “literal homelessness,” a term for people who live on the streets with no registered address.

The 2022 District Point-in-Time Count (PIT), a snapshot of homelessness in the District, showed that for the sixth consecutive year the number of homeless people in the District has declined. Single adult homelessness fell by 12% and family homelessness by 14%, according to the report.

Conversely, the 2022 point-in-time count also revealed that homelessness among veterans and unaccompanied youth was on the rise, increasing by 11% and 8% respectively.

Christy Greenwalt, chair of the homeless services committee of the Metropolitan Council of Government, said the decrease in overall homelessness seen during the point count could likely be due to the moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently lifted this month.

Bowser is expected to review the measure before the DC Council votes on its fiscal year 2023 budget submitted last spring.

If anyone needs emergency shelter in the district, please contact the shelter hotline at (202) 399-7093 or dial 311.

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