Saturday, June 16, 2012


Rhode Island—soon to become the new “Aloha State”

Among other steps, the Rhode Island law would guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks and transportation as well as public buildings, like anyone else "without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status."

It guarantees a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to personal belongings similar to that of people who have homes.

by Larry Geller

When the Governor of Rhode Island signs their new “homeless bill of rights” they will have displaced Hawaii as the Aloha State. RI lawmakers did something no other state has done.

The city of Honolulu continues to confiscate property of those forced to live on sidewalks (because they have been swept out of the parks and other areas), and Hawaii’s governor went so far as to ask that no one feed those living outside even though that would mean children could go hungry.

Hawaii lost the “Aloha State” designation a long time ago in my book, when it cut off medical care for Micronesian and other migrants, resulting in several deaths (the number 27 is often quoted but I can’t substantiate that number) before the courts intervened. Hawaii is a state (and Honolulu a city) that has no aloha for those who are down in today’s tough economy, for those needing mental health services, for prisoners, for special needs children, for those with disabilities—just some examples of groups with comparatively little power that have faced discrimination.

Inevitably it is the federal court that intervenes to protect Hawaii citizens against their own government.

The Rhode Island bill begins with these words. The complete bill is posted below.


34-37.1-1. Short title. – This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the “Homeless Bill of Rights.” 34-37.1-2. Legislative intent. –

(1) At the present time, many persons have been rendered homeless as a result of economic hardship, a severe shortage of safe, affordable housing, and a shrinking social safety net.

(2) Article 1, Section 2 of the Rhode Island State Constitution states in part, that “All free governments are instituted for the protection, safety, and happiness of the people. All  laws, therefore, should be made for the good of the whole; and the burdens of the state ought to be fairly distributed among its citizens. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied equal protection of the laws.”

(3) Concordant with this fundamental belief, no person should suffer unnecessarily or be subject to unfair discrimination based on his or her homeless status. It is the intent of this chapter to ameliorate the adverse effects visited upon individuals and our communities when the state’s residents lack a home.

Download Rhode Island's Homeless Bill of Rights

The new law would have teeth. Plaintiffs would be able to hire and pay for their choice of legal representation:

34-37.1-4. Damages and attorneys’ fees. – In any civil action alleging a violation of this chapter, the court may award appropriate injunctive and declaratory relief, actual damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs to a prevailing plaintiff.


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