Why should I be surprised? Assemblymember Tom Ammiano tried to introduce a bill providing some basic human rights for homeless people, and the Chron lashes out with a nasty editorial that misses the entire point.
Ammiano's AB 5 was crafted with the help of homeless advocacy groups, and it's really not that radical a proposal. It would simply guarantee some basic human rights to people who don't have a permanent place to live. It would, for example, forbid employment discrimination against homeless people in employment, public services and voting. It would enshrine in law the right of all people to use public space, including as a place to rest, and would establish that 24-hour access to bathrooms and showers is a basic human right.It would protect the rights of homeless children to attend school. It would guarantee homeless people cited under laws that could lead to criminal sanctions the right to a lawyer.
It would also bar local authorities from forcing people into shelters or other programs without their consent and would guarantee equal treatment from law-enforcement.
Oh, and it would prevent local laws that bar homeless people from occupying vehicles that are legally parked, and precent authorities from taking away the personal property of homeless people.
But to read the Chron's editorial, you'd think the world was coming to an end:
A bill that asserts an individual's right to urinate, sleep and panhandle wherever he wants is neither compassionate nor wise. To pass it would be to surrender our streets and parks to misery, chaos and squalor.
Misery, chaos and squalor? Whoa. As if the lives of homeless people are not already, in many cases, marked by those characteristics.
And really, the bill doesn't talk about the right to "urinate wherever he wants;" it mandates that cities provide accessible bathroom facilities so people don't have to urinate on the streets. "It's not a good idea or even healthy to have a law that says you can piss or shit wherever you want," Pauld Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, told me. "So having 24-hour access to hygiene centers is a way better alternative."
But of course, Boden said, opponents of the law "are going to try to make it all about urination and defecation. It's a way to dehumanize people."
I don't understand what's wrong with asserting that homeless people have the same human rights as the rest of us. If this undermines bad laws like sit-lie and care not cash, so be it; in a rich state, we can and should do better. (But even the Chron's own reporter says the bill won't undermine SF's sit-lie law).
Ammiano's moving forward with the bill, expecting amendments and open to discussion. But as far as the Chron's editorial goes, he told me" "It reminds me of Robin Williams' comment about a bad review he got '' 'I was going to have a chicken shit on it, but that would be redundant.;"
UPDATE: If you want to see a comparison of the current anti-homeless laws to the "ugly laws," the Jim Crow laws and a lot of other stuff we all now agree was wrong, check it out here (pdf)