Updated: Apr 1, 2020
The civil rights inherent to our society are something which hides in the shadows of legal jargon, precedence, and subjectivity, for which they originally aimed to solve. The vast lack of informed and educated citizens has allowed an all-out slaughter on the individual liberties and rights, abhorring a free society. Armed with every protection imaginable, these police officers capitalize on the uninformed fear of our citizens. While conducting interviews with homeless men and woman, their legality, logistics, and rights remained unclear. Not only were questions of law unanswerable, the more I asked and read, the more uncertain, unknown, and unidentified the laws and rights became. The men and woman I spoke to stress the uncertainty and absence of clear-cut laws, which subject uninformed homeless to a constantly uncertain state of criminalization.
While the use of public space to sleep was upheld in 2018, the language in this law works to undermine itself. The Federal Appeals judge upheld the eighth Amendment in 2018, which prohibits "criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter," said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court "may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless”, unless, it is believed there is vacant space in a homeless shelter. Not only is it impossible to know if space exists within these shelters on a day to day, night to night basis, but officers are expected to decide for themselves. This allows officers to engage with and interrogate whoever they want, whenever they want.
In lieu, many states have adopted additional measures aiming to clarify and legalize these aspects and conditions of poverty. While multiple states have passed what’s known as “The Homeless Bill of Rights”. California, Colorado, and Washington continue to work together in developing and drafting a practical solution to the dehumanizing criminalization of homelessness. While appearing to help those without shelter, a “homeless bill of rights” deems the homeless as something other than U.S. citizens. These labels separate and distinguish the rights of all with the rights or lack thereof, for the homeless. While extensive measures need be performed to aid and assist an increasingly desperate and growing homeless population, a specific “homeless bill of rights” undermines American liberty. It says those without shelter do not possess the same rights as every other American. This is wrong and disgusting. The inclusion inherent to American democracy is fractured by assigning specific civil rights, which are already in effect. With this understanding here is an example of Traverse City, Michigan’s “Homeless Bill of Rights”:
Access basic requirement necessary for sustaining life, including shelter, sanitation, medical care, clothing, and food;
Move freely in public places in the same manner as other persons without harassment or intimidation;
Have equal opportunities for employment;
Receive emergency medical care;
Exercise equal civic privileges, including the right to register to vote and the right to vote;
Have personal information protected;
Have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property;
Receive equal treatment by state, county, and municipal agencies; and
Allow for access to resources for housing and supportive housing.
It is alarming that these rights needed to be stated as though the civil rights inherent to American Democracy, do not apply to certain populations. These commonsense measures prove that the homeless population is stripped of its basic rights. The need for additional rights points to the cruel, barbarous indecency displayed by police. I had aimed to provide general knowledge of laws in which the homeless may use to protect themselves from the police and unnecessary incarceration, but what has emerged is the underlying problem of fascist policing tendencies to treat citizens according to their economic and social status. Often, it is police officers who are in the greatest need of a constitutional education. They have clearly forgotten what it means to be free and American, although they are never taught the laws they supposedly enforce. That is the district attorney’s job after arrest. Police departments have been allowed to operate with little oversight and far too much trust, for much too long.
Armed not with a gimmick, but an education and an understanding of one’s laws and rights, we will prepare and defend the innocent from the rampant criminality among police and other flawed government agencies. Homeless inclusion requires the basic civil rights, promised and guaranteed to all U.S. citizens. At odds with a government of the people, by the people, for the people, I promise you, the homeless are PEOPLE.