Madison’s Equal Opportunities Commission is considering a bill of rights for the homeless.
The EOC is exploring a bill of rights based on those approved or under review in a handful of other states that say the homeless have a right to use, rest at, sleep at and leave property in public spaces, with certain restrictions.
The bills in other states also include the right to eat, share, accept or give food and water, to solicit donations in public places and occupy a motor vehicle to rest or sleep, and more.
“The commission feels it’s very important to raise the level of awareness, to decriminalize homelessness and make sure everyone has equal protections,” EOC President Brian Benford said.
The EOC, which would make a recommendation to the City Council, will take time to craft a unique bill of rights that complies with city and state laws, said Lucia Nunez, director of the city’s Department of Civil Rights.
The city, for example, has strict guidelines for panhandling.
“This is just the beginning discussion,” Nunez said. “We want to create a draft that is ours and city of Madison specific.”
The EOC will discuss the bill of rights at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room LL-120 of the Madison Municipal Building.
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In addition, the EOC is also starting to explore whether to add the homeless to the list of protected classes in the city’s Equal Opportunities Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation and other classes in employment, housing and public accommodations.
On Tuesday, Ald. Anita Weier, 18th District, an EOC member, introduced a proposal to the council to add the unemployed as a protected class. The proposal will be considered by committees and decided by the council at a later date.
Former Ald. Brenda Konkel, one of the city’s most outspoken advocates for the homeless, applauded the EOC’s efforts.
“I’m very grateful to see them address this issue,” she said. “As a city, we’ve got to stop ignoring this issue and do something about it.”
The impact of a bill of rights would depend on the specifics while adding the homeless as a protected class would be “incredibly, immediately useful,” especially in the area of public accommodations, Konkel said.
An effort to create new protections for the homeless was sparked early this year by former alder and EOC member Brian Solomon, who did not seek re-election in April, Nunez said.
The discussions fit into the EOC’s desire to become more proactive, Benford said.
A 20-point homeless bill of rights that’s serving as a basis for discussions came through a national coalition of homeless advocates, he said.
“I believe it’s giving hope,” Benford said. “Once you start a conversation, it has a great impact on people directly impacted by homelessness.”