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Helping the homeless with a bill of rights

Rhode Island lawmakers are considering whether to enact a first-in-the-nation bill of rights for the homeless. The bill would prohibit certain groups of people (mainly police officers, landlords, employers and medical workers) from discriminating against the homeless.

Just about every year there are bills proposed in the Maryland General Assembly to help protect the homeless. In fact, Maryland is a leader in legislation protecting the homeless and in 2009 became the first state to pass a law classifying crimes against the homeless as hate crimes. (Other states, including Rhode Island, soon passed their own versions of the bill.)

But Maryland still has its struggles with this issue. Just recently Baltimore City faced a controversy when it shut off the power supply to a homeless shelter after the shelter allegedly didn’t pay its bills. The shelter alleges that the city owes the shelter money; hopefully the sides will reach a resolution so this vulnerable population isn’t left without a safe haven.

(For more about the homeless in Baltimore, check out this blog. It’s written by a formerly homeless man living in Baltimore. It hasn’t been updated recently but the posts are personal and informative.)

Statistics on the number of attacks on homeless people are extremely sad — 1,184 cases of violence since 1999, according to one report. And these are only the cases that we know about. It’s likely that there are many more incidents that go unreported.

The homeless already have such a small voice in our society; I can’t imagine what it must be like to face discrimination from the people that you need help from. It’s enough of a struggle for them to try and to survive and get their lives together. (Check out the comments in the story about the Rhode Island law to see some of the hatred that exists.) Although this Rhode Island bill may be difficult to enforce, I believe it is an important step in protecting the homeless.