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Articles - Rights of the Homeless, etc.

Homeless Law Blog


Homeless Persons Have Rights, Too.

Homeless ManHomelessness is a serious problem in some areas of the United States. Many state and municipal laws put restrictions on the conduct of the homeless. In many cities, they can't panhandle, loiter, or sleep wherever they want. However, the U.S. government passed legislation in 1987 to provide some specific rights to the homeless as well, under certain circumstances.

You May Not Need a Home to Vote

The U.S. Constitution doesn't specifically grant the right to vote, so whether you can vote depends a great deal on your particular state's laws. Typically, you can vote as long as you meet your state's other requirements, including mental competency. Some states make special provisions for the homeless, allowing them to use a courthouse address for purposes of voter registration.

Your Children Have the Right to an Education

Federal law addresses the educational rights of homeless children. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, all school-age children have the right to go to school. The act defines a homeless child as not having a "fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." It requires that every U.S. public school district have a homeless liaison to help meet the educational needs of homeless children.

Some States Offer the Right to Shelter

Your right to shelter depends on your state's laws. New York law provides shelter to homeless individuals. Shelters are usually available on a first-come-first-served basis. When they're full, the government typically has no further responsibility to put a roof over your head. However, the McKinney-Vento Act requires that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide shelter in an emergency situation. This means a public emergency, such as a hurricane, not a personal emergency, like an illness.

You Have the Right to Emergency Medical Care

The federal government gives all U.S. citizens the right to emergency medical care. This applies not only to homeless individuals, but also to anyone who can't pay for medical help. You can't go to any doctor or hospital, however. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTLA) is restricted to doctors and hospitals that participate in the Medicare program.

A Civil Rights Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding the rights of the homeless people is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a civil rights lawyer.

Homelessness Often Treated as a Crime

Posted November 29, 2012 in Criminal Labor and Employment by Janet Raasch

Each year, 3.5 million Americans will experience homelessness. On a given night, 636,000 individuals are homeless. Of this number, 40 percent will be “unsheltered.” They will have no place to stay, not even a homeless shelter, and will be sleeping on the streets, in cars, in tents or in abandoned buildings.
Homelessness is associated with the poor economy, high unemployment rates and a lack of affordable housing. Those most at risk are people currently ”doubling up” and living with someone else, individuals discharged from prison, young adults who “age out” of foster care and people with no health insurance. One of every seven homeless individuals is a military veteran.
Cities Turn to Criminalization
To deal with the increasing problem of homelessness, cities (where most homeless people live) have turned to the criminal justice system.
Often, cities adopt measures that target homeless people by making it illegal to perform certain life-sustaining activities in public. Often criminal penalties – like fines and imprisonment – accompany violation of these laws. Continuing this cycle, a criminal record makes harder to achieve stability.
Cities say they want to improve the lives of people without homes and ensure public safety. Businesses often complain when the homeless panhandle or sleep in commercial areas. Supporters of the homeless argue that these regulations make their hard lives even more difficult.
Commonly Prohibited Activities
In a survey of 234 larger cities, 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places; 33 percent prohibit sitting or lying down in public places; 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and 53 percent prohibit begging in public places. Some cities even prohibit the distribution of food in public areas.
In addition to these restrictions, governments can selectively enforce criminal laws and conduct sweeps of city areas where homeless persons are living. Often, these sweeps result in the destruction of personal property, including important documents.
What about Services?
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was passed in 1986 to coordinate the federal response to homelessness. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Program of 2009) was a $1.5 billion federal effort to prevent a recession-related increase in homelessness. It assisted 70,000 at-risk and homeless people in 2010.
Although most cities offer emergency food services and shelter for people without homes, these are rarely sufficient to meet the needs of all individuals. Plus, some of the homeless refuse help.
A Lawyer Can Help
The laws surrounding the “crime” of homelessness are complicated and constantly evolving. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general update on this topic. For more detailed, specific information, you can contact a lawyer through Many lawyers and legal clinics provide free services for the homeless.
Visit to locate a criminal attorney in your area who can help you and answer your questions.