Daily Chronicle: Homeless bill of rights coming in 2020?

By Guy Page

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Hallquist asked on Twitter Dec. 2, “Okay, Vermont, when are you going to pass a homeless bill of rights?” To this question Vermont HBR advocates could very well answer, “We tried to pass one in 2018 and it didn’t go so well. But maybe 2020?”

Rhode Island became the first state in the union to pass a homeless bill of rights, in 2012. Passed with advocacy support from the ACLU and several housing and homeless coalitions, “the bill prohibits discrimination based on housing status, stating, ‘No person’s rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged solely because he or she is homeless. Such a person shall be granted the same rights and privileges as any other resident of this state,’” according to the website of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSA) of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Guy Page

The House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee held hearings on H.412, the homeless bill of rights, in 2018. But despite strong support from chair Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury), the committee wavered after hearing concerns from business and municipal advocates that it might empower panhandling and loitering in business districts.

A similar bill, H492, was introduced this year and referred to Stevens’ committee. It was sponsored by Stevens, Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie (D-Hartford), Martin Lalonde (D-S. Burlington), and five lawmakers from Burlington: Barbara Rachelson (D), Selene Coburn (P), Johannah Donovan (D), Jean O’Sullivan (D), and Mary Sullivan (D). Stevens is the only member of his committee to sponsor the bill.

H.492 would protect homeless people’s access to housing, employment, medical care, schooling for their children, and other public benefits. It also would legally protect panhandling: “No person shall be subject to civil or criminal sanctions for soliciting, sharing, accepting, or offering food, water, money, or other donations in public places.”

Homelessness is not just a Burlington-area problem. Recent articles in local newspapers in Brattleboro, Middlebury, Montpelier, St. Johnsbury and St. Albans all paint a similar picture: the homeless are here, some services exists, and the community is often divided on what’s best for all concerned.

Not surprisingly, one response to solving the problem of homelessness is to create more housing and require that at least some of the units be dedicated to homeless and/or low income Vermonters.

Yet taxpayer-funded housing is expensive. A new housing project for mixed income residents on Taylor Street in downtown Montpelier had s building cost of $256,000 per rental unit. A similar project on Main Street in Montpelier cost more than $300,000 per unit.

As Stevens, a strong backer of housing for the homeless, told Vermont Daily Chronicle recently, “the cost of providing (building and funding) affordable housing…. is different than housing that is affordable.”

At present, the Vermont ACLU seems to be fighting for homeless people’s rights on the local level. Several days ago, it achieved a favorable settlement with the City of Burlington on behalf of a homeless man whose property was confiscated and destroyed by the City of Burlington, according to a Dec. 4 press release.

It’s significant that this lawsuit was filed in federal, not state, court. If Vermont had a state law, it’s not unlikely the ACLU would have pressed its case there. In other states, the flurry of lawsuits predicted by opponents of state laws hasn’t happened, claims one advocate on the SAMSA website. Advocacy organizations appreciate the law’s value even without contentious lawsuits – at least, for now.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.

Image courtesy of TNR

8 thoughts on “Daily Chronicle: Homeless bill of rights coming in 2020?

  1. Idiotic policies such as a “homeless bill of rights” are exactly what has helped create the mess they are enjoying in San Francisco. The ACLU could better devote it’s time to defending the free speech rights of college students, conservative speakers, and my second amendment rights, rather than defending the rights of bums asking for handouts and camping out on (and destroying) public property. What about my rights to enjoy the same public property free of drug needles, human feces, and mountains of trash?
    There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see the same people, who have been standing at the same intersections for over two years, with the same signs, standing within 100 feet of multiple help wanted signs, smoking cigarettes and drinking a large coffee from Dunkin.
    Stop endorsing, supporting, incentivising, and making excuses for these people. They don’t need additional rights,what they need are policies that only reward them for doing the right things. As things stand now they have little incentive to improve their own lives.

  2. If Tax paying VT land owners are having to move because they can’t afford this mini Taxachusetts
    why do they want non tax payers to have domain rights??? Maybe they should be coaxed into moving to RI which is already set up for them and a little warmer too… $250,000 and up for rental units seems a huge bit overboard to be taxpayer funded. Where’s all them FEMA trailers???

  3. So if I decide to go camping in the summer for 3 months, I can then ask the state to pay for all my housing, food and medical? How does this make sense it would clearly bring us to bankruptcy quickly.

    Notice this happening the same time we are promoting , profiting and trying to legalize more drug use, drug and alcohol use is a major if not the most important reason for homelessness.

    Wouldn’t this be a magnet for drug users and further escalate our poor financial situation?


    Does this help the homeless or help collapse Vermont and its vulnerable citizens? That is the question to ask that exposes the fruit of our socialist Montpelier.

    It’s in the subversion play book. This is but one of the ways a group of socialists are trying to take over our state, they have totally taken over the Democratic Party of Vermont. They want the entire state, well some want to transform the entire country, just ask Bernie.

  4. I thought we had a bill of rights and constitution, have they forgotten to tell Christine? Can you see how bad our educational system has become?

  5. Homeless bill of rights? Last time I looked the homeless prefer to be just that. They do not want help. All you have to do is open your eyes.

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