Nick Page

For months, advocates and others in the community have been waiting for the results of the latest survey by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH).

The survey, released on April 9, is designed to determine if homeless people in Washington, DC, experience discrimination.

The results are striking.

The various stories in the NCH survey show homeless individuals are being discriminated against or at least believe they are being discriminated against.

The survey results showed that 93 percent of respondents felt that they had been discriminated against, while 70.3 percent of African Americans reported that they felt discriminated against by law enforcement and 75 percent of whites felt that private businesses discriminate against them.

“We have heard many complaints of discrimination,” said NCH Director of Community Organizing Michael Stoops. “We decided we wanted to find out if homeless people perceived discrimination.”

Some of those surveyed said discrimination against the homeless is partly tied to a general lack of clarity about the legal rights of a homeless person.

Current District law offers some protections  The Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005 governs the delivery of homeless services in the city. It sets standards for service providers and lays out rights and responsibilities for participants in homeless programs. The DC Human Rights Act of 1977 as well as the Bias-Related Crime Act of 1989 extend protections to people based upon their personal appearance and source of income. But the laws do not specifically protect homeless people from discrimination.

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has a pamphlet that explains a person’s rights on the street, but it does not reflect an understanding of what the homeless people in Washington are perceiving. Even in freezing weather, homeless people may be refused refuge inside private businesses. Or they can be refused care at a medical facility. Locked doors in public places seem designed to put a person out into the weather once again.

NCH hopes to find a way to create a law similar to one in Illinois, where no one may be denied service because they are homeless. Homeless individuals in the state are allowed to freely use and roam public spaces. The legislation also helps ensure that homeless cannot be discriminated against in terms of obtaining employment for not having a permanent mailing address. Finally, the legislation provides reasonable expectations around privacy of personal property – something that is generally missing for many homeless individuals.

Stoops feels that Washington, DC, could be the first city to adopt a “Homeless Bill of Rights”.

Our nation’s capital should adopt better protections for the homeless and serve as an example for the rest of the country. Our city has a chance to take the lead on how a city can combat discrimination of its most vulnerable. Hopefully the public will be allowed to add a Bill of Rights for the homeless here in Washington, DC.