Should California Adopt a “Homeless Bill of Rights”?

The Fairfax Town Council passed a resolution last week asking the state Legislature to ban the unequal treatment of those without a roof over their head. Should the city of Mill Valley follow their lead?

The Fairfax Town Council wants the California State Legislature to adopt a “California Homeless Bill of Rights” to ban the unequal treatment of those without a roof over their head.

Given the recent debate about homelessness in Mill Valley on the heels of new anti-panhandling signs posted at major intersections, should the city of Mill Valley follow suit?

At its Sept. 5 meeting, the Fairfax Town Council unanimously backed a resolution encouraging legislation that would require enforcement of existing U.S. and California Constitution-guaranteed rights. According to a staff report, the proposed “California Homeless Bill of Rights” doesn’t ask for “the granting of special and extra rights not given to any other person or group of persons.”

The report (attached at right) said people in Fairfax, Marin and California who are “blessed with great providence” have a “moral obligation” to care for those less fortunate than others. “The homeless too often suffer and incur discrimination, hardships, burdens and the deprivation of constitutionally protected rights solely because of their status as being without a permanent home," according to the report.

The bill of rights (also attached at right) protects a homeless individual’s right to vote, right to move freely in public spaces, right to emergency medical care, right to protection from disclosure of his or her records provided to homeless shelters or service providers and the right to not face discrimination while seeking or maintaining employment due to his or her lack of a permanent mailing address.

Some of the legislative language the council approved is borrowed from a “Homeless Bill of Rights” that the Rhode Island governor signed into law in June.

Though he voted for the resolution, Councilman Larry Bragman said he was “bothered” the legislation “recognizes homelessness as a given fact instead of addressing homelessness.”

Instead of working to eliminate homelessness, the legislation “seeks to protect it and enshrine” it as a class, Bragman said. “It’s a sad day when we have to recognize homelessness and homeless people as a permanent class in the richest society on the planet.”

The council also had a short discussion about if the legislation should protect someone’s right to sleep or live in a vehicle.

“The community would have to weigh-in on that,” Councilman David Weinsoff said. “Members of the community might be concerned about expanding the right for those who wish to live in a vehicle on their street and in front of their house.”


Fairfax’s call to protect the rights of the homeless offer a sharp contrast to what many municipalities across the nation have done to outlaw homeless-associated behaviors.

San Francisco voters passed a law in November 2010 that bans sitting or lying on public sidewalks. Since it’s approval, many have questioned the law’s effectiveness. 

This summer, homelessness became a topic of debate in Mill Valley when that encourage residents to give to local charities instead of panhandlers.

The Mill Valley council’s discussion about the signs included concerns about the safety of people asking for money on a “dangerous” median in Mill Valley, .

Mill Valley Councilwoman Shawn Marshall said she agreed with the sentiment that residents should support local charitable organizations that help homeless people.

“On the other hand, as somebody who does periodically help out someone on the street corner, I feel like putting those signs up is a bit intolerant and lacking in human response,” she said. “It’s not my way of being in the world. Putting a sign up there is basically code for saying, ‘We don't want you in our town.’”


A countywide  identified 1,220 people who are experiencing homelessness in Marin and 4,103 precariously housed.  

The count revealed a decrease in sheltered or unsheltered people from 2009, but saw an increase in people who were “precariously housed.”

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