A bill to grant those experiencing homelessness certain rights and access to public places, House Bill 1591, was heard this week in the House Committee on Civil Rights & Judiciary. The plight of those experiencing homelessness is terrible, and there are areas of the state, particularly in larger cities, where the problem approaches a humanitarian crisis.
The bill attempts to address the problem by trying to decriminalize homeless status, but it goes too far in allowing occupation and use of certain public places. Counties own a lot of land, roads, and buildings that would be considered “public places” under this bill, and allowing entry and residence in these areas present its own set of risks and problems.
Similarly, while no one should be harassed because they lack a home, the definitions in this bill are so broad that even trying to ascertain if someone is homeless or in need or services could subject a person to civil liability.
It remains unclear how county health and sanitation codes could be enforced under this bill, and the threat of serious contagion is very real, with some homeless encampments already seeing a resurgence of serious diseases.
WSAC will continue to monitor this bill and work with the sponsors and stakeholders if it progresses to ensure that the counties can continue to provide services and maintain public health for everyone while still accomplishing the goal of making sure the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness are safeguarded.