Congress Takes Up Unhoused Bill of Rights as States Debate Similar Bills

Rep. Cori Bush Unhoused Bill of Rights

Credit Image: © Michael Reynolds/EFE via ZUMA Press

U.S. Representative Cori Bush, D-MO, has reintroduced her landmark Unhoused Bill of Rights legislation as states across the country consider passing similar legislation.

Bush’s bill would require the federal government to “permanently end the unhoused crisis” by 2027. It would also require the government to guarantee access to universal healthcare, housing, and employment at jobs that pay a living wage.

Several bills circulating in state offices contain similar provisions. For example, lawmakers in Michigan introduced legislation that would guarantee homeless people the right to access medical care, the ability to vote, and the right to attend school regardless of housing status.

In St. Louis, Missouri, lawmakers are debating a bill that would prevent the city from sweeping encampments when adequate housing options are not available and would provide toilets and other hygienic care for people living in encampments.

“Being able to afford a safe place to live is a human right that has been undermined by intentional policy decisions,” Bush said. “We have the power and money to end the unhoused crisis; we just need the will to reorient Congressional priorities.”

This isn’t the first time Bush has introduced her Unhoused Bill of Rights.

The congresswoman previously introduced the legislation in 2021, but the bill never made it out of the Financial Services Committee. Previous attempts to pass legislation at the state level have also fallen short.

In Denver, former state Representative Jovan Melton introduced his so-called Right to Rest legislation in each of the four years that he was an elected official. But the bill failed to pass despite Colorado’s legislature and governor’s office being under Democrat control.

However, there is more support behind the idea this time around. Outside of state legislative bodies, some advocacy organizations are also pushing governments to adopt the policy at a time when homelessness is increasing nationwide.

“Housing is a human right, and bold solutions – including universal rental assistance, preservation and expansion of public housing, investments in the national Housing Trust Fund, and robust and enforced tenant protections – are necessary to end homelessness,” National Low Income Housing Coalition CEO Diane Yentel said.

“Homelessness is one of our country’s most urgent, tragic, and solvable crises, and Congress must use every opportunity to advance the policy solutions needed to end it,” Yentel added.

Other organizations like the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Human Rights Watch also support the legislation.

“This legislation lays out the causes and consequences of homelessness, includes recommendations for funding evidence-based solutions and programs, and fearlessly challenges those who would criminalize homelessness,” NAEH advocate John Threlkeld said.

The bills are being debated when several cities grapple with staggering increases in the cost of living and homelessness.

For instance, home prices in Los Angeles have increased by 7.5% since August 2021, Zillow data shows. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, the number of homeless people in the city has increased by 12% over the same time span.

Similar stories can be told about cities ranging from Portland, Oregon, to Denver, Colorado, and New York City, New York.

“Unhoused people are human beings worthy of dignity and respect. They are victims of the unconscionably high rents in this country. They are not criminals and deserve this bill of rights,” said New Jersey Tenants Union President Matt Shapiro.

How You Can Help

Now is not the time to be silent about homelessness in the United States or anywhere else. Unhoused people deserve safe and sanitary housing just as much as those who can afford rent or mortgage.

Poverty and homelessness are both policy choices, not personal failures. That’s why we need you to contact your officials and tell them you support legislation that:

  • Streamlines the development of affordable housing
  • Reduces barriers for people experiencing homelessness to enter permanent housing
  • Bolsters government response to homelessness

Together, we can end homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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