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Rhode Island to Create Homeless Bill of Rights

Rhode Island to Create Homeless Bill of Rights

On any given night in America, more than 640,000 people are homeless. Though such studies often encounter serious methodological difficulties, this estimate nonetheless helps us understand the extent of homelessness in America. What’s more, homelessness is on the rise, as a December 2011 study by the US Conference of Mayors reported a 6 percent increase in homelessness in the 29 major cities surveyed.

Amid rising numbers, new hope for the homeless has come from Rhode Island, where the state House of Representatives and the state Senate have passed a “homeless bill of rights,” which Governor Lincoln Chaffee is expected to sign soon. The legislation prohibits police, health care workers, landlords or employers from treating homeless people unfairly because of their housing status. As the Boston Globe explained, though “state law already prohibits discrimination based on characteristics such as a person's religion, gender, race or disability, there is no formal, specific protection for the homeless.”

At a time when cities across the country are passing municipal ordinances targeting homeless people, like in Philadelphia, where charities have been banned from feeding homeless people in public places, the action taken in Rhode Island stands in stark contrast and is a reminder of the need for us all to open our arms and help the vulnerable among us.

We are taught in Mishneh Torah, “You are commanded to provide the needy with whatever they lack. If they lack clothing you must clothe them, if they lack household goods, you must provide them…you are commanded to fulfill all of their needs” (Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Gifts to the poor, 7:3). We are commanded to help those less fortunate on the path of self-sufficiency so that one day they will not need assistance—and recognition of basic rights is a major step forward along that path.

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