New bill could protect homeless Californians' right to survival

By Brooke Purves

California joined an elite list of states last month in requesting protection of its nearly 140,000 homeless residents from discriminatory law enforcement practices.

State Senator Carol Liu introduced Senate Bill 608, the “Right to Rest Act,” which aims to protect homeless persons from being cited or arrested under local municipal ordinances for participating in basic, life-sustaining activities.

Oregon and Colorado have similar bills in the works.

The ordinances in question—against camping, loitering, food-sharing and other activities—apply to everyone, but are disproportionately enforced against those without a fixed residence, Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic concluded in a report released last month, which reviewed such laws in 58 California cities.

“We’re talking about criminalizing people because [they] exist,” said Paul Boden, executive director at Western Regional Advocacy Project, which announced the bill in a news release.

In essence, the bill would protect one’s right to use public spaces—to eat, rest or protect oneself from the elements—without discrimination based on actual or perceived housing status. It would also protect the act of sleeping in legally parked vehicles. Those discriminated against could enforce their rights in a civil action.

A Homeless Bill of Rights, which required state-funded sanitation stations, died in the legislature early last year.

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