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‘Homeless Bill of Rights’ legislation heard in committee

Rep. Emily Dievendorf
Rep. Emily Dievendorf

LANSING, MI (MPRN)— Legislation to prevent discrimination against unhoused people in Michigan received a first committee hearing last week.

The bill outlines eight rights that sponsors say should be afforded to Michiganders without discrimination based on one’s unhoused status:

  • To move freely in public spaces  
  • To equal treatment by state and local agencies 
  • To freedom from employment discrimination based on a lack of a permanent mailing address 
  • To emergency medical care 
  • For citizens, to vote and access necessary documentation to prove one’s identity 
  • To protection from homeless shelters or service providers giving away personal information to the government or private entities 
  • To personal property privacy expectations similar to those who have permanent addresses 
  • For homeless children to be enrolled in school without delay 

It’s commonly been called the “Homeless Bill of Rights.”
Representative Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) sponsors the legislation.

“We do need a reimagining of whether what we’ve been doing has been effective but also humane, because this is real discrimination that has happened,” Dievendorf told the House Economic Development and Small Business subcommittee on Housing Thursday.

A few other states, including Illinois, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have passed similar laws. Puerto Rico has as well.

The bill, however, is facing pushback from critics who don’t believe it would make a substantial change in the lives of unhoused people in Michigan.

"A number of things in the bill are simply redundant within other areas of law. And it seems to -- they call it a Homeless Bill of Rights, but most of it’s redundant and it’s not actually helping homeless people in any other way besides restating rights,” Representative Joseph Aragona (R-Clinton Twp) said Friday.

Aragona brought those concerns up Thursday to Mike Karl, founder of the outreach group Cardboard Prophets.

Karl told the committee the legislation would help people his group serves with getting ID cards and holding the shelter system accountable.

Afterward, he elaborated that he felt there’s not much to ensure shelters and service providers are following U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.

“They may not offer the same services to an individual that’s sleeping right next to the same room as them because they might not fit the criteria that their shelter requires. This would require them to treat everyone fairly,” Karl said after the meeting.

Other speakers discussed how unhoused people who also have disabilities can be turned away from some shelters based on their inability to meet requirements — like being able to make it up the stairs or reach a top bunk.

Speaking Friday, Aragona acknowledged there’s potential room for legislative action there.

“If the Democrats want to work with us across the aisle and see if maybe there’s maybe an accountability mechanism for some of these shelters that we can put in place, that’s definitely something to look at. But this bill doesn’t do that,” Aragona said.

The legislation will likely hear more testimony before a possible committee vote.

During Thursday’s hour-long meeting, several people testified in favor of the bill while also sharing frustration at time limits on their speech. Lawmaker questioning was also limited in the name of keeping things moving.

Subcommittee Chair Kevin Coleman (D-Westland) said he plans to hold another meeting within the coming weeks to make up for it.