Indianapolis First U.S. City to Pass Homeless Bill of Rights

Tuesday, March 10, 2015
A homeless camp in Indianapolis (photo: Kelly Wilkinson, AP)

Indianapolis, Indiana, has become the first city in the U.S. to guarantee protections for homeless individuals.


The “Homeless Bill of Rights,” passed by the City-County Council almost exclusively with Democratic votes, makes it more difficult for police to harass and move the homeless from public spaces. The ordinance says such individuals have the right to “move freely in public spaces” as well as receive equal treatment from city agencies and emergency medical care.


Another provision states they have the right to a “reasonable expectation of privacy” for their personal property. Plus, the city would be required to store homeless people’s belongings for two months in certain situations.


The city also would be required to give homeless persons 15 days notice before moving them from a camp. A law enforcement exception was added to the plan allowing police to avoid following the notice provision during emergencies.


Supporters emphasized that the bill is as much about smart economics as it is about protection of the city’s homeless population. “It is much more cost-effective to provide support services and assistance to those experiencing homelessness in our city, than to arrest them,” Democratic Councilman LeRoy Robinson, citing an array of studies and statistics, told the IndyStar.


The ordinance is a stripped-down version of an earlier draft that lacked the votes needed for passage. Some of the council members had opposed the bill because they felt it tried to do too much and ignored possible consequences of its requirements. The earlier version included a clause that protected the homeless from employment discrimination, as well as an appropriation of funds for a homeless engagement center. The funding plan is still alive, but now contained in a separate ordinance under consideration.


There are nearly 2,000 homeless residents of Indianapolis, which is a 19% increase over the previous year.


The city’s new law is modeled after similar state laws in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Illinois.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Indy Council Creates 'Homeless Bill of Rights' (by Brian Eason, IndyStar)

City Passes Innovative ‘Homeless Bill Of Rights’ (by Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress)

Homeless Bill of Rights (National Coalition for the Homeless)

Rhode Island First State to Pass Homeless Bill of Rights (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Michael Schwing 8 years ago
@ Amanda--yes, Indianapolis didn't do their homework, nor did they listen to me, one of several actually homeless homeless advocates (at the time, I am now housed)that Indianapolis was not the first. Title should also be changed on the basis that the mayor did not pass it so we really don't have a homeless bill of rights here. It was hardly based on the Rhode Island Bill of Rights as it read as if written by a 12 year old and listed a half dozen rights guaranteed by Federal Law and the Constitution. The Mayor did not sign it for this reason (although homeless issues rarely make it onto his bucket list). The response by those fighting for this legislation? Instead of trying to pass it again after our newly elected homeless friendly mayor-elect is seated, they will just work on the state proposal.
Amanda 8 years ago
Please change the title of this post because in Jan. 2014 Duluth, MN became the first U.S. city to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights.
David 9 years ago
You need to contact the City of San Diego because they are persecuting homeless people here just like the Nazis

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