Homeless ‘bill of rights’ passes Assembly committee

California’s homeless “bill of rights” is one step closer to a full vote after being passed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, would allow homeless people in California to legally sit, sleep and ask for donations in public without the threat of being arrested or cited. The bill would also allow homeless to reside in parks 24/7, regardless of their operating hours.

Ammiano explained the bill’s primary goal was to stop the criminalization of homelessness. Bill supporter and Coalition on Homelessness organizer Lisa Marie Alatorre told the SF Examiner:

“This bill calls for the immediate end of criminalizing homelessness. We need to stop allowing that to be our response to economic problems.”

The proposal lays out a “bill of rights” for people who are homeless including the right to:

“… move freely, rest, solicit donations, pray, meditate, or practice religion, and to eat, share, accept, or give food and water in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment or arrest.”

If passed, the state would also be required to set up “health and hygiene centers” to provide showers and restrooms for the homeless 24 hours a day. Additionally, legal assistance must be available for anyone issued a citation for an activity related to their housing status.

While the state would foot the bill for these costs, the final price tag is still not known. Ammiano told the committee:

“Citations, arrests and jail time do not solve homelessness. They just route crucial public dollars that could be spent on housing to an already impacted court and corrections system.”

The new proposal would override San Francisco’s sit-lie ordinance passed in 2010 by voters. Sit-lie ordinances, though, would remain enforceable in cities that meet certain criteria, including having available public housing and have not been identified as “an area of concentrated unemployment.”

But sit-lie ordinances would be enforceable if strict criteria are met: the county provides adequate welfare assistance, the city isn’t identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as an area of concentrated unemployment, and the county’s public housing waiting list contains fewer than 50 people.

Assemblyman Donald Wagner, who voted against the bill Tuesday, told the committee:

“The homeless situation in San Francisco is going to be very much different from the homeless situation in Fresno, Los Angeles or central Orange County. By Sacramento passing this law, it doesn’t allow those cities to fix their own problems.”

While many local governments and business groups are in opposition of the bill, they’re probably thankful the current amended version of the bill no longer includes the controversial provision that would have legalized public urination by the homeless.

The legislation, passed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote, will now head to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.