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Housing advocates and experts on Wednesday applauded Rep. Cori Bush following her introduction of an Unhoused Bill of Rights, a resolution aimed at ending the U.S. homelessness crisis by 2025.
“The unhoused crisis in our country is a public health emergency, and a moral and policy failure at every level of our government.”
—Rep. Cori Bush
Bush (D-Mo.)—who was formerly unhoused—described the measure (pdf) as “the first federal resolution to declare unalienable rights for unhoused persons and provide solutions to permanently end the crisis by 2025.”
“In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, this resolution illustrates the interconnectedness of the unhoused and public health crises,” she added.
Bush said in a statement that “the unhoused crisis in our country is a public health emergency, and a moral and policy failure at every level of our government. As someone who has lived in her car with my two infants while I was working a full-time job, I know the daily trauma and stress that comes with the perpetual instability of not having a safe place to live.”
“It is past time for the federal government to establish an Unhoused Bill of Rights and make the desperately needed investments to guarantee housing, healthcare, and a robust social safety net for our unhoused neighbors,” she added. “We can end this crisis by 2025 if we, as lawmakers and as a country, finally dedicate ourselves to prioritizing those in our communities who have the least.”
If passed, as Bush’s office detailed, the Unhoused Bill of Rights would:
- Permanently end the unhoused crisis by 2025 by drastically increasing the affordable housing stock, providing universal housing vouchers, and bolstering funding to federal housing programs, shelters, transitional and permanent housing programs, social services, and housing advocates;
- Call on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to declare the unhoused crisis a public health emergency;
- Protect unhoused individuals from the violation of their fundamental civil and human rights to housing, healthcare, livable wages, education, employment opportunities, access to public facilities, and freedom from harassment by law enforcement, private businesses, property owners, and housed residents;
- Support historic federal funding levels for state and local governments to provide 24-hour support for unhoused people, including: shelters, transitional housing programs, supportive services, public restrooms, hand-washing stations, showers, laundry facilities, and water fountains in coordination with grassroots and community-led organizations; and
- Develop holistic, health-based, and noncarceral solutions to the unhoused crisis in coordination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community-led organizations, and unhoused advocates from a health-based approach that addresses both the unhoused and public health crises.
The resolution is co-sponsored by 17 progressive House Democrats: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Yvette D. Clarke (N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), Dwight Evans (Pa.), Marie Newman (Ill.), Mondaire Jones (N.Y.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), Nikema Williams (Ga.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), André Carson (Ind.), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.).
The measure is also backed by numerous advocacy groups.
Lee Camp, senior staff attorney at the St. Louis-based advocacy organization ArchCity Defenders, hailed the resolution as “a crucial first step in ensuring that the rights of those experiencing homelessness in St. Louis, and throughout the United States, are not infringed upon simply because they’re unhoused.”
Tent Mission STL, another St. Louis advocacy group, noted that “we live in a country whose approach to homelessness has been criminalization, a state where harm-reduction workers are forced into the shadows because it is still a felony to distribute clean syringes to IV drug users, and a city that doesn’t have a 24/7 emergency walk-up shelter for its residents.”
“The time for the federal government to extend a hand to local communities who have always taken up the work of supporting their unhoused residents is long overdue,” Tent Mission STL added. “However, it is crucial that in doing so they follow the lead of unhoused folks and local activists in order to mitigate harm and uphold the dignity of the unhoused community.”
Eric Tars, legal director at the National Homelessness Law Center, said that “with Covid and the Delta variant still raging, evictions from rentals and homeless encampments will create public health disasters. Unless we get rental assistance to the 15 million people who need it—and at the same time, stop criminalizing homelessness—this crisis will get much worse. Housing is a human right, and Rep. Bush’s Unhoused Bill of Rights is our guide map to making that right a reality in America.”
The resolution was introduced on the same day that the Los Angeles City Council voted to outlaw sitting, sleeping, or storing belongings on public property.
The measure also came as progressive lawmakers and experts sound the alarm about the potentially devastating consequences of the looming expiration of the federal eviction moratorium, which, if unextended, will place an estimated six million people at risk of losing their homes after July 31.