As Michigan considers a homeless bill of rights, lawmakers hear about issues facing the community ⋆
The rights to access emergency medical care, for youth to be enrolled in school and for people to move around freely in public spaces are included in a proposed “Bill of Rights for the Homeless,” which received testimony Thursday from formerly homeless individuals and advocates.
There are homeless individuals all over the state, homelessness advocate and a formerly unhoused person Mike Karl told the House Economic Development and Small Business Subcommittee on Housing. Although Michiganders often walk past the same people each day, people don’t know much about their neighbors living on the streets and the discrimination they face.
“I see it every day. This bill will help end discrimination and will help fight the economic and social injustice that is applied to some people that are living out on the streets and I think it’s important that all of us at some level stand up and help where we can, because that’s all we really need to do,” Karl said.
The bill being considered by Michigan lawmakers, HB 4919, would create an outline of rights for those experiencing homelessness in the state including:
- The right to move freely, the same as any other person, in public spaces without discrimination stemming from a person’s housing status
- The right to equal treatment without discrimination by state and municipal agencies based on a person’s housing status
- The right to not be discriminated against by employers because the person doesn’t have a permanent mailing address or they provide employers a shelter or social service’s mailing address as their own
- The right to receive emergency medical services without discrimination based on a person’s housing status
- The right to, without discrimination, participate in elections and to receive the necessary documentation to provide their identity in order to vote, regardless of a person’s housing status as long as they are a United States citizen
- The right for a person’s personal information provided to a homeless shelter or social service to be protected from disclosure without legal authority
It is estimated that around 8,000 individuals in Michigan are unhoused and living on the streets, bill sponsor Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) said, but those are just the individuals who can be identified. With negative societal stigma associated with unhoused individuals and the various temporary solutions those individuals have found to keep a roof over their head, the scale of need is much bigger.
“In Lansing and across the state, our shelters are full. Our housing is aging out and getting bulldozed after years of lacking investment. Michigan residents coping with substance abuse, PTSD [Post-traumatic Stress Disorder], discrimination and disability, even pregnancy, are fighting for the limited space in our under-resourced shelters,” Dievendorf said. “Treating those who quite literally have nowhere to go like unmentionables or castoffs is not just unacceptable, it just doesn’t acknowledge the reality of where we are.”
Individuals are asked to leave public spaces and denied service everyday if they are perceived to be experiencing homelessness, Dievendorf said. It’s a lofty goal to ask the entirety of the state to reconsider its perception on how individuals may become unhoused and how they should be treated, but it needs to be done.
“We do need a reimagining of whether what we’ve been doing has been effective, but also humane because this is real discrimination that has happened,” Dievendorf said. “The fact is, when we consider somebody to be an inconvenience, or or somebody that we don’t want to see based on A through Z reasons, our unhoused populations experience the denial of services at a regular rate.”
Michigan ‘bill of rights for the homeless’ to be introduced as part of larger housing package
“Not everyone that’s homeless is a bum,” sai Brandy Edwards, who came to the committee to represent her peers in the homeless community.
“I became homeless with three boys, one of which is autistic nonverbal, because my mother passed away in January. Nobody is financially set to bury somebody,” Edwards said.
This can happen to anyone, state Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing) said, homelessness doesn’t make a person “other”. The idea of children of families experiencing homelessness getting to go to school stands out to her.
“I’m here to tell you that I missed third grade because my family didn’t have a permanent residence,” Tsernoglou said. “It happens and because of that one thing in there, this is important, this is needed.”
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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
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