Duluth’s homeless community plans to rally for a bill of rights Monday on the steps of City Hall.
Two years ago, the Duluth City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for civil rights protections for persons experiencing homelessness and directed the Human Rights Commission to draft language for an ordinance that would establish those protections in city code, advocates said in a Thursday announcement. Lst year, they said, city councilors, city council candidates and then-mayoral candidate Emily Larson committed publicly to working with advocates to write and enact a a bill of rights. On Dec. 5, they will present a proposal to the city council’s committee of the whole.
Homeless people believe that they have been treated unfairly or discriminated against by both private businesses and city staff because of their housing status, according to surveys conducted at the annual Community Connect events in Duluth.
“Duluth can do better,” organizer Shareeka Smith said in a news release. “It was scary enough to be forced to sleep in our car with our girls because we couldn’t find housing we could afford. When you add to that knocks on your car door by police telling you to move on or else, it’s terrifying. I’ve had really good interactions with the police, so I know that experience doesn’t reflect on the whole department. We are just asking for the city to put its best practices into policy. Everyone deserves dignity and fair treatment, and everyone at some time in their lives needs a hand up. By passing the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights we are saying that we are a community that looks out for one another.”
Bill of rights proponents say a 2016 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found a national trend of municipalities and counties passing laws that criminalize homelessness - from bans on charities serving food in public to limits on how long people can sit in a public park. Loaves and Fishes Community of Duluth is an initiating partner in the campaign.
“Duluth has a chance to lead the nation by passing a Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights,” said Smith. “We are so happy that our mayor, councilors and the police are committed to working with us to make this a reality.”
Organizers are seeking 11 protections:
• The right to use and move freely in public space.
• The right to rest in public spaces protected from elements in a non-obstructive manne.
• The right to eat, share or accept food in public spaces.
• The right to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle.
• The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy – including backpacks and temporary dwellings
• The right to equal treatment by city staff.
• The right to protection from disclosure of personal information without consent
• The right to protection from discrimination in housing and employment.
• The right to 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities.
• The right to choose whether or not to utilize emergency shelter
• The right to speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police.