A Legal Matter: Laws that Disproportionately Impact People Experiencing Homelessness

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There are particular laws and policies that explicitly target and harm people experiencing homelessness. These include camping bans, sit/stand ordinances, and the plethora of other “quality of life” laws. These laws criminalize the state of being homeless. They saddle people with legal fees and put them at increased risk of arrest and imprisonment. At the end of the day, they do nothing to end a person’s homelessness, and often make it even harder for them to secure the housing they need, due having a history of criminal justice involvement.

However, it would be dangerous to assume that these are the only laws that harm the people we serve. In fact, there are numerous laws that disproportionately harm people experiencing homelessness. At this moment, new legislation of this sort is being proposed and gaining traction in states and cities across the nation. Two of the most troubling examples right now include efforts to suppress the vote, and efforts to limit healthcare for transgender individuals.

Every Vote Counts

There has been a recent rise in concerning legislation focused on voting regulations. These include restrictions related to voter identification, residency requirements, vote-by-mail, and early voting.

It may be difficult to draw the line between voting restrictions and people experiencing homelessness so here are a few things to consider:

  1. ID Requirements: It is common for many people experiencing homelessness not to have identification or to have limited identification documents. Not only is it difficult to obtain a state ID for a person who is literally homeless (who is not staying within a brick-and-mortar establishment), but these documents are more likely to be lost, stolen, or damaged when a person is homeless (not to mention the risk of losing documentation during encampment sweeps and clean-ups).
  2. Residency Requirements: Similarly, it can be very difficult to verify residence for someone who is experiencing homelessness in order to locate the proper polling place. By narrowing the identification requirements to enforce residence verification, these laws increase the burden on people who are experiencing homelessness and ultimately restrict their ability to exercise their right to vote.
  3. Vote By Mail: Voting by mail has been instrumental in increasing voting access for people experiencing homelessness. It removes the burden of transportation to the polls, an issue many experiencing poverty and homelessness encounter. It also allows people to use their social security numbers to satisfy voter identification requirements. Legislation limiting this option affects many people, but it especially threatens people experiencing homelessness’ access to voting.
  4. Early Voting: Early voting also increases access to people experiencing homelessness who might have difficulty getting to the polls on election day or have issues related to identification requirements at polls. It also benefits those who may have difficulty standing in line at polls, or who may need additional assistance that they wouldn’t have access to at polling locations (such as general help filling out their ballot). Again, limiting or virtually eliminating early voting options is another barrier that will suppress the voting rights of people experiencing homelessness.

Keep in mind that this isn’t just about Presidential elections. Often, the policies that have the greatest impact on people experiencing homelessness are the ones that happen on the local and state levels, including ballot measures related to homelessness, housing, zoning, and related issues.

To learn more about voting rights for people experiencing homelessness, please consult the Alliance’s “Every One Votes” resource page.

Health Care Deprivation for Trans Youth

Concurrently, there is legislation being pushed in several states that will limit or eliminate health care options for transgender young people.

The various bills and code of law amendments have targeted healthcare providers who administer medication and therapies (and/or conduct surgeries) related to gender confirmation, gender dysphoria, hormone provision, and other health services associated with transgender healthcare. They have also targeted parents and guardians of transgender children who consent to these services.

These types of legislation threaten the well-being of already highly vulnerable groups. The connection to homelessness is more direct than one might think; the statistics on homelessness and LGBTQ identity are staggering. Forty percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ, with transgender youth being 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-transgender youth (Chapin Hall, 2017).

Removing their access to mental and physical health resources represents an erosion of the health support networks that all vulnerable and under-resourced groups need. Moreover, the connection between health and homelessness is thoroughly documented. Homelessness accelerates the aging process and increases the likelihood of a person developing chronic and progressive health conditions. Restrictions on healthcare access only stand to increase their vulnerability.

It’s important to also realize that this is also a matter of racial justice. Not only are transgender youth disproportionately affected by homelessness but among this population, Black and Hispanic (non-white) youth are disproportionately represented as well. Black and Hispanic groups already experience disproportionately negative health outcomes, making transgender Black and Hispanic youth experiencing homelessness particular populations of concern regarding anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Although the Biden Administration recently announced that it will reverse limits on healthcare protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people, it’s unclear what, if any, impact this will have on pieces of state and local legislation currently in play.

Take a Stand

As these types of legislation are being introduced and considered in your state, note the negative impact they will have on our homeless neighbors who we work to serve every day. Voter suppression and health care denial threaten the safety and rights of people who are experiencing homelessness, creating yet more barriers for those who already face insurmountable obstacles. Speaking up about the impact of these types of barriers and discrimination against people experiencing homelessness in your community is the only way that progress will happen.