Advocates of the “Homeless Bill of Rights” rallied outside the Capitol steps on Thursday while the Senate Human Services Committee held a public hearing. The hearing addressed the Right to Rest Act, popularly known as the “Homeless Bill of Rights.”
Senate bill 629 would allow anyone to sit, sleep, pray, and eat in a public space as long as they do so in an unobtrusive manner. Under current legislation, police can arrest persons for loitering.
“It’s horrible that we’re talking about defending somebody’s right to sit down in public space, but that’s where we’ve gotten to at this point,” said Paul Boden, Executive Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). Supporting similar reformed legislation in Colorado and California, WRAP hosted Thursday’s rally and promoted its signature “House Keys Not Handcuffs” ideology.
Housing those suffering from homelessness remains a critical need — especially in the Portland area. Several studies suggest it is far cheaper for taxpayers to provide homeless people with affordable housing than to leave them on the streets, where funds from various welfare, government, and non-profit agencies are drained. Despite efforts to combat homelessness, approximately 4,000 men, women, and children in Multnomah County are without a home.
“If we can be forced to disappear by throwing us in jail, or chasing us out of town, then maybe we can all start working together to restore the federal funding that was cut because we all know that’s what created the problem in the first place,” Boden said.
Critics worry the Right to Rest Act could interfere with law enforcement’s control of public spaces.
“[With] this bill, pretty much anybody can say if they’re homeless then the police will have to back off and they would be able to sleep, camp, lie anywhere in a public place in our parks, in our parking lots, any place that is public,” Albany Mayor Konopa said. In 2006, Konopa worked to shut down a homeless camp near Albany.
“It’s just a very poorly written bill,” she said.
Others recognize the need for change, but remain uneasy about adopting a possibly superficial solution.
“It’s kind of a stopgap measure,” said Stephanie Redman, Executive Director of the Oregon Recreation and Park Association. “And I think it’s looking to Parks and Recreation to solve a homelessness issue and obviously that issue is way more complex than whether or not somebody is permitted to sit in a local park or to be there overnight.”
“[We’re] not asking you to let them camp, we’re asking you to let them sleep,” Ken Laney, a man experiencing homelessness, testified at the hearing. “Wild dogs get to sleep at night. Just let the people.”