Illinois poised to be among first states to enact a Bill of Rights for the Homeless

The Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless (Senate Bill 1210) is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature, after securing a final legislative vote May 28.

CCH Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman worked with legislative sponsors this spring to secure support for the bill, which passed the Illinois General Assembly in one session.

Illinois would be among the first states in the nation to adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights. Rhode Island enacted similar legislation in June 2012, and Connecticut legislators passed a bill of rights a week after Illinois, on June 5, that also awaits their governor’s signature. 

The Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights would protect people who experience the loss of housing from discrimination by creating a list of basic rights. These rights include the right to maintain gainful employment, to access emergency medical care, to access public spaces and transit systems, the right to privacy of personal property, records, and information, and the right to vote on the same basis as other people.

Under this act, these listed rights cannot be denied on the basis of one’s housing status. If one of these rights were violated because someone were homeless, that individual would have the right to take legal action and seek damages.

CCH applauds the Senate’s chief sponsor, State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), for introducing this important legislation, as well as the chief House sponsor, State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Westchester).

The anti-discrimination measure first passed the Illinois Senate April 25. The Illinois House voted for the bill 76-33 on May 10, and the Senate voted 48-7 on May 28 to ratify a House amendment that corrected a technical error in the original bill.

At CCH, in addition to Ms. Cushman’s advocacy, Law Project Director Laurene Heybach testified before the Illinois Senate and House judiciary committees.

SB 1210 was supported by Senate leadership, with co-sponsorship by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and a yes vote from Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). Other chief co-sponsors are Sen. Michael Noland (D-Elgin), Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights), Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago), and co-sponsors Sen. Emil Jones III and Sen. Mattie Hunter (both D-Chicago).

State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) collaborated on revising language in the bill, and his remarks in favor of the bill on the Senate floor led to a broad base of support from both parties.

“I hope the Homeless Bill of Rights is only the first step our state takes in ending discrimination against the homeless in Illinois and extending opportunities to allow these individuals to improve their situation,” Sen. Silverstein said, as quoted by the Illinois Senate Democrats’ website.

House co-sponsors were State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago). Additional House sponsors signed on following the House Judiciary’s committee vote, providing bi-partisan leadership from new chief co-sponsors, State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and State Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Gurnee).

The bill’s original language included “housing status” among groups that to be protected from discrimination by the Illinois Human Rights Act, but this portion of the bill was deleted due to concerns from several legislators.

Locally, homeless people were already protected: Cook County offers protection based on “housing status” in its 1993 Human Rights Ordinance.

Interestingly, officials from the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH) told CCH that their inspiration for the nation’s first homeless bill of rights came from legislation introduced in Illinois almost ten years ago.

The late State Rep. Wyvetter Younge (D-East St. Louis) sponsored House Bill 4116 in 2004, which passed the House but did not progress to a Senate vote, according to research by Ms. Cushman. HB 4116 offered several provisions enacted in this year’s Illinois bill, including the right to emergency medical care, the right to vote, and privacy of personal records.

Puerto Rico also passed a homeless bill of rights in 2007.

– Anne Bowhay, Media