Public Advocate Introduces Homeless Bill of Rights Legislation to City Council

Image credit: New York City Council.

On April 14, 2022, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, along with Council Members Rafael Salamanca, Tiffany Cabán, Althea Stevens, Shahana Hanif, Diana Ayala, Julie Won, Lincoln Restler, Shekar Krishnan and Crystal Hudson, introduced a first-of-its-kind Homeless Bill of Rights at the City Council stated hearing. The legislation, called Int. 190, would codify rights of homeless individuals living within and outside of the City’s shelter system in a Homeless Bill of Rights.The Department of Homeless Services would be required to create this bill of rights to inform homeless individuals about their rights and the services available to them, including the right to shelter, access to legal services, voting rights, educational opportunities for homeless children, housing and financial assistance, and protection against discrimination. The bill of rights will also inform individuals of the rights they are guaranteed while living in shelters, such as meeting privately with advocates and legal representatives, access to bathrooms, washing machines and dryers or money for laundry, and meals and accommodations for those with eating restrictions. The Department would be required to make this document available on its website and to provide it to shelters and social services offices for distribution.

While these rights are included in agency rules, this legislation will help ensure the rights are upheld by compiling them into a single declaration and publicizing these rights. The legislation also aims to empower homeless individuals to self-advocate if these rights are violated.

In a press release, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams commented, “We’re in a moment when the homelessness crisis is worsening, a wave of pending evictions threatens to worsen it, and homeless individuals are being targeted, demonized, and dehumanized. Both inside and outside of shelters, unhoused people feel like they’re left without support, without options, without rights or recourse, amid a system that has failed for so long, and has left people feeling abandoned and powerless. The rights that this legislation would codify are a floor, not a ceiling. By establishing this bill of rights, we are empowering individuals, elected leaders, and organizations to hold the city accountable to those rights being protected as we continue to push for the true solution to the homelessness crisis: housing.”

Council Member Salamanca stated, ““Providing for our most vulnerable in their greatest time of need will always be a central focus of the New York City Council. At a time when almost 60,000 New Yorkers continue to navigate a post-pandemic world while calling city shelters home, it is imperative that these New Yorkers know what protections they have in place to safeguard them and their families. From the right to access legal services to what is and isn’t proper housing accommodations, the homeless bill of rights will ensure the voices of ALL New Yorkers are heard.”

City Council will hold a public hearing on this bill at a later date.

By: Victoria Agosta (Victoria is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)



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