As of January, volunteers counted 1,897 city residents going without shelter or permanent housing, a 19 percent increase over the year before. The bill ensures this population a number of rights, such as the right to move freely in public spaces, a reasonable expectation of privacy for their belongings, equal treatment by city agencies, and access to emergency medical care.
It also restricts the ways the city can interact with them. It would be required to give 15 days notice before displacing a homeless person from an encampment, although an amendment gives police the power to circumvent the requirement in case of emergency. The city would also have to store a displaced person’s belongings for 60 days and connect him with nonprofits that offer transitional housing and other assistance.
But supporters point out that the bill isn’t just about increased protection for homeless people. It’s also about finances. “It is much more cost-effective to provide support services and assistance to those experiencing homelessness in our city, than to arrest them,” Councilman LeRoy Robinson (D) told The IndyStar. There’s plenty of evidence to back this idea up. A study in Florida found it costs the state $31,065 in medical and incarceration costs per each chronically homeless person left on the streets every year, compared to the $10,051 cost of giving the same person permanent housing and services like health care and job training. A shelter in Fort Lyon, Colorado will cost less than $17,000 per person versus the $43,240 it costs to leave her unsheltered and interacting with the police and hospital systems. An apartment complex intended for the homeless in Charlotte, North Carolina saved $1.8 million.
The Indianapolis bill is modeled after laws in Rhode Island and Illinois. Rhode Island’s law enshrines their right to move freely in public spaces, get equal treatment by state and municipal agencies, seek emergency medical care, and expect privacy for their belongings as well as additional protection from employment discrimination, voter discrimination, and the disclosure of records and information. Illinois protects the homeless from discrimination based on homeless status, including in employment. Connecticut also enacted a bill of rights in 2013 with nearly identical provisions as Rhode Island’s. Seven other states and two cities have considered such legislation.