A bill before the State Legislature aims to establish a Homeless Bill of Rights for Massachusetts. The proposal outlines seven fundamental rights for people experiencing homelessness, including the right to move freely in public spaces, to equal treatment by government agencies, to emergency medical care, and to vote. At a recent public hearing, advocates urged the Legislature’s Housing Committee to move the bill forward.
Local Senator Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, supports the measure. “Massachusetts has experienced a rapid increase in its homeless population,” Barrett said. “Because these families lack permanent addresses, many are deprived of some of the most basic rights others may take for granted.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated the number of homeless residents in Massachusetts in 2014 to be 21,200, a 12% increase from the previous year.
“I think it’s very, very important that we allow these folks the same rights and privileges that we all have,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “Very simple things from moving around in a public town park, to the ability to register to vote. It’s very hard to register to vote if you don’t have a physical address.”
Barrett says this is a priority issue for residents of his district. He’s received calls, emails and letters from 151 constituents over the past three years.
The Homeless Bill of Rights, modeled after a Rhode Island statute, advanced out of committee last legislative session. Barrett notes that similar bills have been passed in Connecticut and Illinois. He says he hopes the Massachusetts Legislature will pass the measure and send it to the Governor’s desk this time around.