It’s a grim joke among conservatives that in Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” poverty won. Now, California is considering a treaty with the conquerors. The California State Assembly is presently debating a bill known among both its supporters and opponents as the “homeless bill of rights.” And unlike the original bill of rights, this bill, introduced by San Francisco Democrat Tom Ammiano, bears little to no sign of an overriding concern for property rights, especially public property rights.
As the San Francisco Chronicle describes it:
A proposed Homeless Bill of Rights could cancel out many locally passed laws. Here’s what the measure protects: — Sleeping in public spaces such as sidewalks and parks — 24/7 access to bathrooms, showers, water and clean syringes. — Car camping on city streets without restrictions — “Life sustaining activities” such as urinating and collecting recycling trash — Welfare cash payments — Meditating or praying in public — Panhandling — Payment for possessions seized in a roust — Right to refuse the offer of a homeless shelter — Right to a lawyer in most encounters with the law
Some of this may sound compassionate, but in practice, its effects are so potentially alarming that even officials from some of California’s most liberal areas are sounding alarm bells about the bill. For instance, according to Santa Cruz’s KSBW news station, the bill’s provision granting homeless people the right to “life sustaining activities” would basically grant them the right to use sidewalks as toilets:
If that sounds unreasonable, don’t tell Mr. Ammiano (the bill’s sponsor), since (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) he apparently thinks the problem is with non-homeless people for taking issue with such behavior:
[The bill's] hyperbolic text compares quality-of-life laws aimed at people living on the streets to Jim Crow laws that punished African Americans in the South, the segregation of Chinese immigrants or “ugly laws” that made it a crime for people with severe disfigurement to appear in public.
Don’t take their word for it, though. The text of the bill mentions numerous groups that have been disenfranchised as moral equivalents to the homeless. They include:
(1) Jim Crow laws: After the Civil War, many states, especially in the south, passed laws denying African Americans basic human rights. In California, these laws also targeted Chinese immigrants. In San Francisco, Chinese residents were forced to live in one area of the city. The same segregation laws also prohibited interracial marriage between Chinese and non-Chinese persons.(2) Ugly laws: In 1867, San Francisco was the first city in the country to pass a law making it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public. In many cities, these laws persisted until the 1970s.(3) Anti-Okie laws: In 1937, California passed an Anti-Okie law that criminalized “bringing or assisting in bringing” extremely poor people into the state. The United States Supreme Court struck down the law in 1941, when it declared that these laws are in violation of the Commerce Clause, and therefore unconstitutional.(4) Sundown towns: Town policies and real estate covenants were aimed at preventing minorities and other persons considered to be socially undesirable from remaining within city limits after sunset. Thousands of these towns existed prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which made these ordinances and covenants illegal.