US Catholic Faith in Real Life

To receive human dignity shouldn't require a roof over your head

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Our nation was founded, as reflected in our Declaration of Independence, on the principle that all persons are created equal. This ought to include homeless men and women. Now Connecticut has become one of the country’s leaders in fighting against the discrimination of people who suffer from homelessness. Recently the state became the second in the nation to pass a “Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights” law, following Rhode Island last year. This bill will protect the homeless from being discriminated against based on their housing, employment, or public accommodations. Gov. Dan Malloy is expected to sign the bill soon so that it can take effect on October 1, 2013.

The bill offers seven protections to keep them from being singled out:

  • They have equal employment opportunities.
  • They will receive emergency medical care.
  • They can register to vote and are able to vote.
  • They are free to move anywhere on public property without being harassed by law enforcement.
  • Their personal information is now protected.
  • They have reasonable expectation of privacy for their personal property.
  • They will also receive equal treatment by state and municipal agencies.

Regardless of the hope for even the slightest bit of equality that the bill brings, there are many who are skeptical with how big of an impact it will actually have. Some believe that it is well-intentioned, but that it will do little change the situation of Connecticut’s 4,500-plus homeless people. One critic even went to so far as to compare the bill’s effect to nothing more than that of those neighborhood signs that say "Drive slowly, we love our children” help to eliminate speeding.

With that attitude, nothing is accomplished. Pope Francis himself warned us all about letting negative thoughts consume us. He talked about the fact that when investment banks fail, everyone panics, yet when a homeless person dies from cold, the world doesn’t flinch. Although this is occurring in our world, he said, "Let us never give in to the pessimism, to that bitterness, that the devil places before us every day. Let us not give into pessimism and discouragement.”

This bill gives all of us—not just the state of Connecticut—the opportunity to assess what we are doing and to take a step in the right direction. The fundamental problem of homelessness may be that they lack basic survival resources (shelter for one) but the loss of human dignity is also an issue that needs to be addressed. Catholic social teaching shows us that all people are reflections of God, and regardless of race, nation, sex, origin, orientation, culture, or economic standing, deserving of honor and respect. Changing our collective attitude toward the homeless would be beneficial to everyone. Even if the bill only helps one person from being harassed or rejected, it is worth it. Hopefully, it will lead to more positive advancements in the situation in the future.

Image: Flickr photo cc by kupiasity