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Protect or Prosecute the Homeless?

"Homeless Bill of Rights" would provide protections to homeless

by Brian Leubitz

Homelessness is always a tough issue. Not only in urban communities, but now in smaller towns where the foreclosure crisis has built squatter towns and unemployment has left many without permanent homes.

But in San Francisco, which recently passed a so-called "Sit/Lie" ban, the issue is particularly complicated. The measure bans sitting or lying on public sidewalks, with provisions to ticket and/or arrest violators. Asm. Tom Ammiano was very publicly against the measure when it passed, and has been working against it ever since.

And so, Ammiano's AB 5 would provide a "Homeless Bill of Right" that would seek to "decriminalize homelessness." Specifically, it would housing status as a protected class, and government entities could not discriminate based upon that status. The bill also contains some specifically enumerated rights:

Those include the right "to move freely, rest, solicit donations, pray, meditate, or practice religion, and to eat, share, accept, or give food and water in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment or arrest."

This would extend to parks for the entire 24-hour day, regardless of whether the park has hours that it is closed.(Wyatt Buchanan / SF Chronicle)

Now, in order to get this bill through the Judiciary Committee, which it did by a 7-3 vote, the bill was toned down a bit from its original form, and a bunch of exemptions were added. The bill faces substantial opposition from the League of Cities, which opposes the reporting requirements among other concerns, and the Chamber of Commerce. And an upcoming date with the appropriations committee could mean further alterations of the measure.