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Congresswoman Cori Bush Introduces the Unhoused Bill of Rights, First Ever Federal Resolution Affirming the Rights of the Unhoused

July 28, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) introduced the Unhoused Bill of Rights, a federal resolution calling on Congress to permanently end the unhoused crisis by 2025. The resolution calls on the federal government to declare the crisis a life-threatening public health emergency, and provides a comprehensive list of more than 30 recommendations to guarantee housing, health care and liveable wages for unhoused people. The Unhoused Bill of Rights acknowledges Congress’ obligation to make significant investments in the nation’s affordable housing stock, supportive services, and other critical resources to support our country’s unhoused community. This is the first federal resolution that affirms the civil and human rights of unhoused individuals and communities. 

“The unhoused crisis in our country is a public health emergency, and a moral and policy failure at every level of our government,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “As someone who has lived in her car with my two infants while I was working a full-time job, I know the daily trauma and stress that comes with the perpetual instability of not having a safe place to live. It is past time for the federal government to establish an Unhoused Bill of Rights and make the desperately needed investments to guarantee housing, health care, and a robust social safety net for our unhoused neighbors. We can end this crisis by 2025 if we, as lawmakers and as a country, finally dedicate ourselves to prioritizing those in our communities who have the least.” 

The Unhoused Bill of Rights would: 

  • Permanently end the unhoused crisis by 2025 by drastically increasing the affordable housing stock, providing universal housing vouchers, and bolstering funding to federal housing programs, shelters, transitional and permanent housing programs, social services, and housing advocates;
  • Calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the unhoused crisis a public health emergency;
  • Protect unhoused individuals from the violation of their fundamental civil and human rights to housing, health care, livable wages, education, employment opportunities, access to public facilities, and freedom from harassment by law enforcement, private businesses, property owners, and housed residents;
  • Supports historic federal fundinglevels for state and local governments to provide 24-hour support for unhoused people, including: shelters, transitional housing programs, supportive services, public restrooms, hand-washing stations, showers, laundry facilities, and water fountains in coordination with grassroots and community-led organizations;
  • Develop holistic, health-based, and non-carceral solutions to the unhoused crisis in coordination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), community-led organizations, and unhoused advocates from a health-based approach that addresses both the unhoused and public health crises.

“We live in a Country whose approach to homelessness has been criminalization, a State where harm-reduction workers are forced into the shadows because it is still a felony to distribute clean syringes to IV drug users, and a city that doesn’t have a 24/7 emergency walk up shelter for its residents,” said Tent Mission STL. “The time for the federal government to extend a hand to local communities who have always taken up the work of supporting their unhoused residents is long overdue. However, it is crucial that in doing so they follow the lead of unhoused folks and local activists in order to mitigate harm and uphold the dignity of the unhoused community. Congresswoman Cori Bush’s Unhoused Bill of Rights takes important strides in that direction.” 

“The National Unhoused Bill of Rights acknowledges the importance of not just housing and other programs, but universal health care as key to protecting our fellow Americans without homes,” said Bobby Watts, CEO of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. “From the health care provider perspective, this year has served as a painful reminder of how much housing is health care and how much both housing and health care must be provided as a human right in order to live in a country that is just and thriving.”

“Every day we work with families in St. Louis experiencing housing instability and homelessness,” said Lee Camp, a Senior Staff Attorney for ArchCity Defenders. “From listening to our clients' stories, we know that their legal and civil rights are constantly being violated at the hands of local governments, businesses, and private property owners. We are grateful to Congresswoman Bush for showing leadership on this issue. The Unhoused Bill of Rights is a crucial first step in ensuring that the rights of those experiencing homelessness in St. Louis, and throughout the United States, are not infringed upon simply because they're unhoused.”

“We thank Congresswoman Cori Bush for her personal commitment to people who are unhoused and furthering dialogue about issues surrounding homelessness,” said Anthony D’Agostino, CEO of St. Patrick Center. “People experiencing homelessness are our neighbors and deserve respect, care and rights. Representative Bush is promoting legislation and funding that provides the resources and services necessary to transform lives and improve our neighborhoods.”

“In introducing the Unhoused Bill of Rights, Representative Cori Bush demonstrates once again why we need more legislators with the lived experience of homelessness, poverty, and racial discrimination,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director for the National Homelessness Law Center. “Representative Bush brings the perspective needed to create policy that actually works for those who share those experiences. With COVID and the Delta variant still raging, evictions from rentals and homeless encampments will create public health disasters. Unless we get rental assistance to the 15 million people who need it—and at the same time, stop criminalizing homelessness—this crisis will get much worse. Housing is a human right, and Representative Bush’s Unhoused Bill of Rights is our guide map to making that right a reality in America.”

“The National Coalition for the Homeless enthusiastically supports the Unhoused Bill of Rights.  We are grateful to Congresswoman Bush for her attention to this issue. We thank the congresswoman for this clarion call to the members of Congress,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “We need real solutions to an issue that has long been characterized as a moral familiarity instead of the socioeconomic societal failure that it truly is. People experiencing homelessness are not homeless. They choose to be homeless because they are forced to be.  They are forced to be because in the richest country in the history of the world, we lack the supply of affordable housing necessary for those making inadequate wages.”

“Not only is the unhoused crisis in America an urgent, life-threatening public health emergency, it is also a national embarrassment,” said Chris Krehmeyer, President and CEO of Beyond Housing. “The wealthiest nation on the planet cannot ensure the most basic of human rights, a place to call home, be made available for all our fellow citizens.  We applaud Congresswoman Bush for this long overdue Unhoused Bill of Rights and wholeheartedly support it.” 

“Congress must use every opportunity to advance housing solutions that move our nation towards universal, stable, and affordable homes for everyone,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The “Unhoused Bill of Rights” resolution makes clear: housing is a human right and bold solutions – including universal rental assistance, robust resources to preserve public housing, and significant investments in the national Housing Trust Fund – are central to any strategy to ending homelessness. Homelessness is a policy choice, and I applaud Congresswoman Bush for helping to build the political will necessary to end this entirely preventable crisis.”

“Ending homelessness in the United States would lift millions of children, youth, and families out of poverty,” said Michael Santos, Senior Policy Associate for RESULTS. “Safe and stable housing provides children and young people with certainty at home and school and improves their overall well-being and ability to thrive and secure a brighter future. Policymakers must effectively address the housing and homelessness crises to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty that has disproportionately affected people of color.”

Full text of the resolution can be found here

A one-pager on the resolution can be found here:

A livestream of the virtual press conference can be found  here

The resolution is co-sponsored by: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Marie Newman (IL-03), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Betty McCollum (MN-04), André Carson (IN-07), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), and Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)

The resolution is endorsed by: National Coalition for the Homeless, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, National Homeless Law Center, National Alliance to End Homelessness, Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, Vecino Group, SAVE, Inc., Western Regional Advocacy Project, Beyond Housing, ARISE 2 DESTINY Ministry Inc., Action St. Louis, Metropolitan Development Council, ArchCity Defenders, RESULTS, Tent Mission STL, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

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Congresswoman Cori Bush represents Missouri’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is a registered nurse, single mother, and an ordained pastor. Following the murder of Michael Brown Jr. by a now-terminated Ferguson police officer, she became a civil rights activist and community organizer fighting for justice for Black lives on the streets of Missouri and across the country.