City moves closer to adopting Homeless Bill of Rights
On Jan. 31, about 100 members of the public attended a special Duluth Human Rights Commission meeting at the Hillside Community Center to discuss progress on the passing of the homeless bill of rights ordinance. The bill was proposed to the City Council three years ago. At the meeting, a beginning draft of the ordinance was presented to the HRC by City Councilor Joel Sipress.
“This is very much a work in progress right now. There are state laws that put limits on what the City can do. There are conflicts between this and other city laws. So there is a lot more work that would need to be done for us to be confident that this ordinance could withstand legal issues,” Sipress said.
The Human Rights Commission, along with City Council members, the Duluth Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights Coalition and members of the homeless community, have been working together to create the draft. Sipress and fellow councilor Em Westerlund said there is not an immediate plan to introduce the bill to the council yet and they want to allow for time for discussion with the commission, the community, city staff etc.
Twin Ports resident Andrew Moe, 39, addressed the commission to share testimony about his experiences as a formerly homeless person and read the 11 proposed protections included in the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights.
“The first two weeks were the longest two weeks of my life. I had never walked so much in my life. I didn’t know where to go for help or where I could use the bathroom,” Moe said. “I was worried that if I sat for more than a couple of minutes, I would get harassed by the police like the way I’d seen happen to other homeless folks. Worried I’d be found in the woods in the night and sometimes by people with less than good intentions.”
Moe said he’d carried bad judgements about people experiencing homelessness before he became one himself.
“It still hurts looking back at how I used to think,” Moe said.
Moe read aloud the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights. The bill is based on surveys from more than 400 people experiencing or who have formerly experienced homelessness. The 11 proposed protections include the right to use, move freely and rest in public spaces, protect oneself from elements in a non-obstructive manner, occupy a legally parked motor vehicle, 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities, choose whether or not to utilize emergency shelter and speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police.
“In the state of Minnesota, the homeless are not a protected population, which I believe we should be. That is not acceptable to me. We matter,” Moe said. “I came this evening to try to humanize the vulnerable. For in my eyes, what makes a community great is how they treat the most vulnerable.”
Moe also thanked Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken for listening to and working with the homeless community to create better police practices. Earlier in the evening, Tusken addressed the commission to discuss possible police policy changes in regards to working with and referring the homeless population throughout the city.