As the mayoral administration continues its efforts to sweep and remove homeless encampments, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams is introducing legislation today in the City Council declaring a first-of-its-kind ‘Homeless Bill of Rights,’ which would codify the rights of homeless individuals both outside of and within the city’s shelter system, as well as standards required to be met within shelters.
“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,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams on introducing the legislation. “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. Now more than ever, we need a homeless bill of rights – and homeless individuals need to be informed of those rights – to ensure that they are upheld, and that people are empowered to demand what they deserve.”
The bill, Intro 190, would require the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to produce a Homeless Bill of Rights, which would inform people experiencing homelessness about their rights and services available to them. In addition, DHS would be required to make this document available on its website and to provide it to shelters and social services offices for distribution to people experiencing homelessness. Council Member Rafael Salamanca is a co-prime sponsor of the bill.
ShelterThe legislation would codify the right to:
Access to legal services
Request an interpreter and have documents translated when interacting with city agencies
Educational options for children experiencing homelessness
Voting rights, voter registration and how to find polling places
Information on how to file a complaint and protections against retaliation for filing complaints
Housing and financial assistance
Protections against discrimination
The right to request accommodations for disabilities
It also details the rights of individuals in shelters, including:
Meet privately with advocates and legal representatives
Leave and return to the shelter outside of curfew hours and request early and late passes
Participate in recreational activities
Be placed in a room with a person who identifies as the same gender
A private room with a lock for families experiencing homelessness
A secure locker for single adults experiencing homelessness
Access to bathrooms
Access to washing machines and dryers or to money for laundry
Access to space and equipment to bathe and change babies and small children
Meals and accommodations for dietary needs and restrictions
“The rights that this legislation would codify are a floor, not a ceiling. They're a base standard, a moral and legal obligation that the city must meet for vulnerable unhoused New Yorkers,” continued the Public Advocate. “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."
While these standards are present in agency rules and other city guidances, the legislation synthesizes them into a single declaration. Aggregating, codifying, distributing and publicizing these rights will help to ensure they are upheld, and empower homeless individuals to self-advocate if these rights are violated.
Read the legislation in full here.
“Providing for our most vulnerable in their greatest time of need will always be a central focus of the New York City Council,' stated Council Member Rafael Salamanca, 17th Council District, The Bronx. “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. Partnering with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, I am proud to co-sponsor the creation of a homeless bill of rights document that shall include information on the rights and services guaranteed to those experiencing homelessness. 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.”
“The Housing Bill of Rights is critical to the needs of all New Yorkers, especially those who identify as Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Non-Binary & Intersex,” said Bryan J. Ellicott of Princess Janae Place Inc. “We need our community to know that how you identify is to be respected and not just tolerated. The document needs reads clear to ensure that people are knowledgeable of their rights and can refer to them at any time, during their period of homelessness."
"I am stuck in one of the most dangerous shelters in New York City, because the case workers around me aren't given the resources to get me an apartment with the voucher I have," said Douglas Powell, a leader at VOCAL-NY. "We need leaders who are going to value all people, and work to get folks like me housed."
“Homeless New Yorkers are New Yorkers through and through, and they, like all of us, need to know their rights,” said Emerita Torres, Vice President for Policy, Research and Advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York. “This important legislation will ensure that clear messages regarding universal rights to education, legal representation, voting and more will reach our neighbors experiencing homelessness.”