Rhode Island bans discrimination against homeless persons

by Walter Olson on September 21, 2012

Under first-in-the-nation legislation enacted by the legislature of Rhode Island this summer, it becomes illegal for landlords or employers, as well as many providers of public services, to “discriminate” against anyone because of their status as homeless. “Among other steps, the Rhode Island law would guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks and transportation as well as public buildings, like anyone else ‘without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status.'” [Reuters] Churches and Brown University students took part in the campaign for the law, opening a soup kitchen within the statehouse building: “‘The whole idea was to put it in their face: this is homelessness,’ says Karen Jeffreys, Associate Director of the Coalition.” [Mother Jones] Rhode Island is the smallest U.S. state: “‘Now we’re a leader in something,’ said state Sen. John Tassoni, D-Smithfield.” [AP] In a sense, Rhode Island is already a leader in something: for the second year in a row, it holds the distinction of having the worst business climate in the country in CNBC’s annual survey, and it has ranked poorly in other business surveys as well. [Scott Cohn, CNBC; NFIB/Forbes; Tax Foundation] Also: Aaron Renn on the R.I. business and cultural climate.


1 mojo 09.21.12 at 1:00 pm

How about on the basis of smell?

2 Christoffer Eldrich 09.21.12 at 4:31 pm

@mojo, Thank you for saving the majority of the readers of this blog to ask that obvious yet nasty question.

3 ras 09.21.12 at 5:31 pm

Only tangentially related to this topic, via discrimination law in general, but interesting:

When the Hiring Boss Is an Algorithm


The data recommend a person who lives near the job, has reliable transportation and uses one or more social networks, but not more than four. He or she tends not to be overly inquisitive or empathetic, but is creative. ‘Some of the assumptions we had weren’t valid,’ says Connie Harvey, Xerox’s chief operating officer of commercial services. However, data-based hiring can expose companies to legal risk. Practices that even unintentionally filter out older or minority applicants can be illegal under federal equal opportunity laws.

4 John Fembup 09.21.12 at 6:20 pm

“guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks and transportation as well as public buildings, like anyone else”

Like anyone else?

Looks like I picked a bad summer to start urinating in the street.

5 Jay Markowitz 09.21.12 at 6:56 pm

Here in CA, the ‘homeless’ guy near my apartment also enjoys making sweet, sweet love to the jacaranda tree and philisophical debates with empty spaghetti-o cans. No, wait, he makes sweet love to the cans and debates the tree…

We have tried to get him help, he adamantly refuses.

Of course, let’s make him a protected class! It’s all our fault for discriminating against him, not for conflating those with serious mental issues into the category of those with serious monetary issues and referring to them all as ‘homeless’ because it sounds nice.

6 Taxpayer 09.21.12 at 8:05 pm

To expand on John’s comment, access was never denied, but the police (and the rest of us) often take offense to some of the activities that the homeless tend to perform on our public land…

7 Amy Alkon 09.24.12 at 9:15 am

Use public sidewalks as a toilet? Where is the line drawn? There’s a homeless guy who sleeps in the bushes on my street (on the public land side). My neighbors and I have no problem with him and don’t report him because he doesn’t cause problems — we don’t find poo anywhere, to put it plainly — and he’s quiet and doesn’t turn the place into a trash dump.

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