Last updated December 11, 2018
*Please sign our latest online action in support of the bill of rights.*
An Act providing a homeless bill of rights (House Bill 695) and An Act creating a bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness (Senate Bill 46) would establish a definition of homelessness and protect key rights of all residents, whether or not they are experiencing homelessness. The bills are modeled after landmark legislation passed in 2012 in Rhode Island. Similar legislation has passed since in Connecticut, Illinois, and Puerto Rico.
The bills were filed in January 2017 by lead sponsors Representative William Smitty Pignatelli and then-Senator Linda Dorcena Forry. House Bill 695 was sent to the Joint Committee on Housing, and was heard by the committee on June 20, 2017. It was reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Housing on July 10, 2017. Now the bill is awaiting action by the House Committee on Ways and Means. Senate Bill 46 has been sent to the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, and was heard on November 21, 2017. The Senate version was reported out favorably and now is awaiting action by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.
The bills are nearly identical to House Bill 1129 from the 2015-2016 session. That bill was reported out favorably by the Joint Committee on Housing in December 2015 and sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means. In spite of considerable support, the bill did not pass last session. We are hopeful that the momentum from last session and the pressing need to uphold human rights and dignity will propel the bills forward this session.Why Is It Necessary to Create a Bill of Rights for People Experiencing Homelessness?
People experiencing homelessness often are subjected to discrimination and mistreatment based on their housing status. Such discrimination compounds and intersects with other forms of discrimination an individual may experience related to their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability status, age, etc. The bill of rights is a guide for state and local officials emphasizing that people experiencing homelessness are entitled to the same rights as any other resident of Massachusetts. The bill of rights seeks to outline those rights so as to prevent discrimination based on housing status. The legislation recognizes the increased prevalence of homelessness in Massachusetts due to widespread economic hardship, the insufficient availability of safe, affordable housing, and a weakened social safety net.“No person’s rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged solely because he or she is experiencing homelessness.”
The rights specifically included in the bill of rights are the right to move freely in public spaces, the right to equal treatment by municipal agencies (such as police departments), freedom from discrimination in employment, the right to emergency medical care, the right to register to vote and to vote, freedom from disclosure of records, and the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy of property.
The bill of rights for people experiencing homelessness seeks to have the rights outlined to be treated as a statement of legislative intent, as a guide for state and municipal agencies.
List of Endorsing Organizations (as of December 2018):
Allston Brighton Health Collaborative
American Friends Service Committee Material Aid & Advocacy Program
Arise for Social Justice
Boston Center for Independent Living
Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee
Boston Tenant Coalition
Boston Women’s Fund
Bridge Over Troubled Waters
Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance
Children’s League of Massachusetts
City Life Vida Urbana
City Mission Boston
Coastline Elderly Services
Community Action Agency of Somerville, Inc.
DIAL/SELF Youth & Community Services
Dismas House of Massachusetts
Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston
Family Promise MetroWest
First Baptist Church, Everett
First Church Shelter
Gates of Hope Inc.
The Haven Project
The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts
Hearts of Hope Inc.
Horizons for Homeless Children
Housing Families Inc.
Homeless Empowerment Project
Homeless Youth Providers Engaging Together
Inclusion Advocacy Collaborative
Justice Resource Institute/Youth Harbors
Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice at Bridgewater State University
Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants
Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless
Massachusetts Coalition on LGBTQ Youth
Massachusetts Fair Housing Center
Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance
My Brother’s Table
National Association of Social Workers-Massachusetts Chapter
New Bedford Homeless Advocates Inc.
Poor People’s United Fund
Samaritans Steps, Inc.
Somerville Homeless Coalition
South Congregational Church
Spare Change News/Homeless Empowerment Project
Stop Bullying Coalition
Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness
Women’s Lunch Place
Y2Y Harvard SquareDownload the bill fact sheet here (updated 12-11-18).
Read the Coalition’s testimony for the June 20, 2017 Housing hearing and for the November 21, 2017 Children and Families hearing, as well as testimony from people experiencing homelessness that was gathered previously: Sherry’s testimony, Charlie’s testimony, and shelter residents’ testimony.
Add your organization as an official endorser of the campaign here.
Protect the Rights of All Residents of Massachusetts, Regardless of Housing Status: Actively Support the Bill of Rights for People Experiencing Homelessness, House Bill 695/Senate Bill 46!