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Duluth becomes first city in Minnesota to establish Homeless Bill of Rights

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Duluth made history Monday night by becoming the first city in Minnesota to establish a Homeless Bill of Rights, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

Advocates began pushing for the measure following the deaths of 29 homeless people in Duluth in 2013. Members of Loaves and Fishes – the group that started the petition for the bill – gathered on the steps of Duluth City Hall on Christmas Eve to draw attention to the deaths and make a call for change.

The resolution to establish the bill Monday night was passed unanimously by the Duluth City Council. It directs the Duluth Human Rights Commission to examine homeless issues and recommend ways the city can respond to homeless people's needs.

The petition for the bill called for a commission in order to end hunger, homelessness and poverty – but it also asked for more affordable housing, the end of discrimination against the homeless, and a public policy declaring that homelessness is not a crime, WDIO reports.

"What we want is a little human dignity," a former homeless man living at the Loaves and Fishes house told the station.

Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner, who introduced the measure, said the passage of the Homeless Bill of Rights is "more than a symbolic statement," and is a "call to action."

Lee Stuart, the operator of the largest homeless shelter in Duluth, told the Duluth News Tribune that the bill is not a permanent solution, but a good start.

"Will this end homelessness? No," Stuart told the paper. "But if it calls us to a deeper conversation about how we want to care for those who are most vulnerable among us, it’s good."

Gardner says six vacancies need to be filled on the Duluth Human Rights Commission, and whoever is appointed will mostly focus on the Homeless Bill of Rights.

She says the appointees will include advocates for the homeless, as well as experts on affordable housing, WDIO says.

Similar measures are being considered throughout the country, but are not being as readily embraced as Duluth's Homeless Bill of Rights.

The Los Angeles Times said in an editorial that California's Homeless Person's Bill of Rights and Fairness Act, proposed by a San Francisco state Assembly member, has been met with controversy because it "would guarantee the homeless the right to live in public much as other people do in their homes."

The bill would permit "life-sustaining activities that must be carried out in public spaces because of homelessness," allowing homeless people to eat, urinate and collect trash to recycle in public. The bill also prevents homeless people from being forced into shelters.

In addition, the Times says, the bill also mandates that public restrooms be available to the homeless around the clock, and protects the "basic human right" to panhandle.

In New Hampshire, however, the state's new Homeless Bill of Rights is being lauded as a national model for protecting homeless people from discrimination, The Associated Press reports.

According to the AP, the law "prohibits governments, police, healthcare workers, landlords or employers from treating homeless people unfairly because of their housing status."

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