South Bend leaders consider homeless 'bill of rights'

South Bend leaders consider homeless 'bill of rights' // WSBT 22

People are going to bed Wednesday night on a South Bend street.

City leaders say there is work to do when it comes to helping the homeless.

Wednesday the public weighed in on the Common Council's idea to draft a homeless “bill of rights."

People Wednesday liked the idea, but right now the homeless “bill of rights" is just that, an idea.

Wednesday's discussion looked at similar bills in other communities to see how it could work South Bend, but until something is officially drafted, it is unclear what changes it could mean for the homeless community.

The main street viaduct has become the symbol of the homeless issue in South Bend.

When the city tried clearing the area this month, some said it was violation of rights.

"It's a shame that we should have to officially give homeless rights because they are citizens," said John Shafer, Michiana Five for the Homeless.

The public had a chance for comment as the Common Council lays the groundwork for just such a bill.

"The rights that we are talking about are rights that we already have, but need to be highlighted again," said Oliver Davis, Common Council vice president.

Council attorney Robert Palmer did research on similar bills in other parts of the country.

The Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights makes property on the street just like property in your home; it can't be touched.

How the bill will look in South Bend is still unclear, but the public Wednesday says it should be anything but vague.

"Words like reasonable, general are way too broad. It needs to be more specific to be effective," said Ron Packer.

The council attorney says there can also be challenges to pass a bill like this at the city level.

States have more power to enforce this type of legislation.

One possibility is for the city is to add "housing status" to the human rights ordinance that already exists.

But until a final plan is submitted, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will wait to form an opinion.

"I'm going to keep an open mind. I think it's value is that it could be a statement of purpose about how much the community cares about taking care of those who were in that situation, but we also need to see what comes back from the council. It has to be enforceable. It has to be lawful, and it has to be a promise that we can actually keep," said Buttigieg.

The council attorney also pointed out that this type of bill could attract more homeless to the city.

Council members Oliver Davis, David Varner, Karen White and Regina Williams-Preston are working on co-sponsoring this bill.

They plan on having more public input meetings.

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