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Homeless to rally in Duluth

A rally in 2014 with the names of people who have died in the past year and have been homeless. (Photo by Shawn Carr)

People experiencing homelessness and their allies will rally on the steps of City Hall at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5, calling for the City Council and Mayor Emily Larson to establish a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights.

On Jan. 13, 2014, the Duluth City Council responded to a community petition by unanimously passing resolution 14-0042R, which called for civil rights protections for Duluthians experiencing homelessness and directed the Human Rights Commission to draft language of an ordinance that would establish those protections in City Code.

Almost three years later, that ordinance has not been passed. At the 2015 Local Solutions to Poverty Candidate Forum, incoming city councilors and then-mayoral candidate Emily Larson committed publicly to working with advocates to write and enact a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights. Since June of 2016, homeless organizers have been meeting with city staff and councilors to work out details of that ordinance. On Dec. 5 at 5:15 p.m. they will present to City Council at a Committee of the Whole.

Surveys conducted at the annual Community Connect events in Duluth in 2013, 2014 and 2016 showed that a majority of people experiencing homelessness believe that they have been treated unfairly or discriminated against by both private businesses and city staff because of their housing status. Survey respondents also indicated that such discrimination was a barrier to getting back on their feet and into housing.

"Duluth can do better," said organizer Shareeka Smith, "It was scary enough to be forced to sleep in our car with our girls because we couldn't find housing we could afford. When you add to that knocks on your car door by police telling you to move on or else, it's terrifying. I've had really good interactions with the police, so I know that experience doesn't reflect on the whole department. We are just asking for the city to put its best practices into policy. Everyone deserves dignity and fair treatment, and everyone at some time in their lives needs a hand up. By passing the Homeless Person's Bill of Rights we are saying that we are a community that looks out for one another."

A 2016 study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found a national trend of municipalities and counties passing laws that criminalize homelessness - from bans on charities serving food in public to limits on how long people can sit in a public park. This is in spite of evidence that these laws don't make homelessness disappear, they actually exacerbate and prolong people's experience of homelessness. The report was released to coincide with the launch of a national "Housing not Handcuffs" campaign to stop the criminalization of homelessness and to work for effective housing policies to end homelessness. Loaves and Fishes Community of Duluth is an initiating partner in that campaign. (housingnothandcuffs.org)

"Duluth has a chance to lead the nation by passing a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights," said Smith. "We are so happy that our mayor, councilors and the police are committed to working with us to make this a reality."

Organizers are asking for the following 11 protections to be written into the Homeless Person's Bill of Rights, based on surveys and focus groups with more than 400 people experiencing homelessness:

• The right to use and move freely in public spaces

• The right to rest in public spaces and protect oneself from elements in a non-obstructive manner

• The right to eat, share or accept food in public spaces

• The right to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle

• The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy—including backpacks and temporary dwellings

• The right to equal treatment by city staff

• The right to protection from disclosure of personal information without consent

• The right to protection from discrimination in housing and employment

• The right to 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities

• The right to choose whether or not to utilize emergency shelter

• The right to speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police

To date, the call to create a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights has been endorsed by more than 1,000 individuals and 30 community organizations and businesses, including: Loaves and Fishes Community, CHUM, Human Development Center (HDC), Take Action Minnesota, SOAR Career Solutions, American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO), Affordable Housing Coalition (AHC), City of Duluth Human Rights Commission, City of Duluth Indigenous Commission, Esmond Tenant Association, Life House, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Lutheran Social Services (LSS), Duluth NAACP, Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA), Center City Housing, 1Roof Community Housing, St Paul's Church, Pilgrim Congregational Church, Occupy Duluth, Duluth Coffee Company, Adeline Inc, Red Herring Lounge, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Northland, Duluth Central Labor Body, United Steelworkers Local 9460, AFSCME Local 3558, Northern Waters Smokehaus, People of Color Radio and MPIRG.

Source: Loaves and Fishes Duluth

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