Homeless Bill of Rights Vetoed
in Indianapolis

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has vetoed a proposal that would have made Indianapolis one of the first cities in the country to establish a "Homeless Bill of Rights."

According to an Indianapolis Star report, the City-County Council earlier this month approved the ordinance largely along party lines, with one Republican joining 15 Democrats in favor. Along with establishing specific rights for the homeless, it also would have made it more difficult to relocate them from public land, like in the case of closing a homeless camp.

But while stressing that he "truly cares about our homeless population," Ballard on Friday vetoed the proposal, calling it an "ill-conceived" liability for the city. "Proposal 291 accomplishes nothing in the way of caring for our homeless population, yet it does create very serious liability issues, including placing both Department of Public Safety and Department of Public Works employees in untenable positions," Ballard wrote in a statement released last Friday.

The proposal was sponsored by Councilman LeRoy Robinson and backed by advocacy groups, who argue that homeless individuals are unfairly criminalized and face pervasive discrimination in their daily lives.

Among the protections that the proposal would have given homeless individuals: the right to "move freely in public spaces," such as sidewalks and public buildings; the right to equal treatment by city agencies; the right to emergency medical care; and the right to a "reasonable expectation of privacy" for their personal property, just as someone would have inside a home.

Robinson argues such explicit protections are needed because the rights of the homeless are often trampled on. Opponents, however, said the protections were over-the-top and would invite a lawsuit. "Despite the proposal's unofficial title as a 'bill of rights,' the rights enumerated already exist for all citizens," Ballard said. "This is an ill-conceived proposal, and I cannot in good conscience sign this into law."

When Rhode Island passed its own Homeless Bill of Rights, the first in the country, legal experts said that its true power resided in the courtroom. For instance, advocates could use it to prevent cities from passing anti-loitering laws aimed at removing homeless people from parks.

Indianapolis' version would have gone a step further, requiring the city to provide 15 days notice before shutting down a camp, and to catalog and store someone's possessions for a reasonable time after relocation.


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