CA Legislature Will Debate “Homeless Bill of Rights”

It could soon get easier to live on the streets in the Golden State. As controversy swirled around the police shooting of a homeless and mentally ill man on Skid Row in Los Angeles, legislators in California considered a new set of regulations activists said would “decriminalize” homelessness by providing a so-called “right to rest” in public.

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The “right to rest” movement has picked up steam first on the West Coast, with similar bills under review in the Hawaii and Oregon legislatures.

Following suit, state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, introduced Senate Bill 608, known as the Right to Rest Act. Using broad language written by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the bill would enshrine such actions as eating in public and occupying legally parked cars as “basic human and civil rights.”

What’s more, SB608 would authorize someone discriminated against in the use of public space to sue to enforce their newly codified rights in a civil action.

In a statement, Liu described homelessness as a “social,” not criminal, issue. “Citing homeless people for resting in a public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty,” she said.

Last month, Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic released a report on “the growing enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws in the Golden State.” In a forceful denunciation of California’s current homeless policies, the Clinic pushed for the kind of changes WRAP helped draft into model legislation:

“Without state-level intervention, California cities have been engaged in a race to the bottom by increasing criminalization, hoping to drive homeless people elsewhere and make them someone else’s problem. Comprehensive reform must target the full range of state codes and municipal laws that criminalize homelessness.”

A pressure cooker

SB608 comes at a time when homeless issues in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have gained a higher profile as a result of rising rents in urban cores.

As reported, the Skid Row shooting of the man known as Africa drew sharp rebuke from community activists in downtown Los Angeles, some of whom pinned blame on the LAPD’s new Safer Cities Initiative. That effort targeted Skid Row — now at the frontier of downtown’s gentrification — with increased monitoring conducted in part by cops with beefed-up training in how to interact with the homeless and mentally unwell.

Critics noted that, although the initiative launched in 2006 by then-police chief William Bratton cut crime, it imposed an unending series of infractions on the homeless. Activists complained that more than half of Skid Row-area homeless had been arrested in the past year.

The problem seemed cyclical: one reason why Skid Row hosted one of the densest populations of homeless in America was because the surrounding areas had seen a robust influx of new renters and owners, raising housing costs.

Mainstreaming a worldview

Despite the fairly radical, social-justice approach taken by the activists who are shaping “right to rest” legislation, the agenda found an advocate in Liu, widely perceived as safely mainstream. On her official website, Liu recently touted her perfect legislative track record last year, when she went eight for eight of her bills enacted into law.

For Paul Boden, director of WRAP, activists’ appropriate ambitions reached nationwide. Himself homeless as a teen, Boden has volunteered and worked on homeless issues for 30 years.

Now he has sensed the stars are aligning for a push that extends far beyond the West Coast. Boden insisted, “From Hawaii to New York and from Maine to Texas, it’s time for this to stop.”

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  1. Donald J. says

    And the downward spiral will continue as the Activists/Socialists/Communists continue in perpetuating the downfall of this once great Nation into the cesspool of irresponsibility.

    • How about a bill to facilitate businesses coming to California, one to improve education, to eliminate government waste, one to reduce taxes and one to eliminate an expanding illegal population? How about a bill that aims to improve the middle class that’s responsible for paying for this…. STOP focusing on the bottom, ILLEGALS and killing business!

  2. Homelessness as a ‘civil right’?
    Don’t tell Willie Brown about this.

  3. Skeptical says

    “Without state-level intervention, California cities have been engaged in a race to the bottom by increasing criminalization, hoping to drive homeless people elsewhere and make them someone else’s problem..”

    The true race to the bottom is in the creation of an institutional ‘beggar class’. This is California, not India.
    Progressives must forsake strategems that increase individual dependancy upon centralized government welfare. Historically bad political decisions dampen economic growth (the extravegant public sector pension debt being the major issue today) and deny a healthy economy that affords homeless people a path out of poverty.

  4. JLSeagull says

    How about adding a provision to the bill for one-way tickets to states like ID, AL and OK where the cost-of-living is 40 points lower than CA. If the rents are too high in CA, send them to places where it is much lower.

  5. John Wirts says

    How about a law requiring all laws to be enforced, Allow citizen committees to investigate laws, any which are not enforced or are no longer needed should be put in a bill or on an initiative to repeal them. New bills should be required to demonstrate their Constitutionality, and where funding to enforce them would come from. Any proposed bill whose purpose was to strengthen an existing law would require the unenforced existing law to be repealed, and the new law to meet the constitutionality, and money for enforcement clauses for all new laws. All laws should have to be unstandable by a high school graduate! If the argument is made high school graduates are only educated to eight grade level, then enforce the exit exam requirement at 12th grade level to get a high school diploma!

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