Discrimination is a serious issue that can be heightened in vulnerable populations. Until recently, there were no explicitly stated laws citing the rights of the homeless. During the Obama administration, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development took a much broader interpretation of what constitutes a residential setting. They began looking at shelters as residential facilities and therefore had to abide by the federal fair housing laws. NEOCH worked with the local fair housing Center, Housing Research and Advocacy Center to put together a brochure for homeless people to use to assert their rights. Examples of discrimination regarding housing can include rejecting a person from housing opportunities, denying them housing, and segregating people within a facility. Identifying the available resources for reporting discrimination grievances is an important step in overcoming barriers associated with homelessness.
Sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, and religion are all protected classes under federal law. Within each class, specific acts mandate actions that housing providers cannot take against a person simply based on who they are. For example, the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) protects women against violence and stalking, including while they are living in public-assisted housing. This act is an incredible safeguard for women because it relieves them from a constant fear of danger. In some cases, this may help protect them from the reasons they became homeless in the first place. Factors qualifying individuals as having a disability are also very important to be understood. These range from mental illness to cancer to HIV/AIDS. Housing providers including shelters cannot use these as reasons to turn a person away and an individual can press charges if there is evidence that a provider was attempting to violate these rights. Related to disabilities, it is illegal to reject a service animal from living in a home with the owner including in a shelter.
While housing providers can ask for proof of the need for a service animal, requiring “pet deposits” or refusing an animal for some other reason is unacceptable. There have been situations in the past where a service animal was considered a “pet” by a housing provider and, therefore, the service animal and the person were rejected. In these circumstances, it is essential for the person facing discrimination to know their rights and to know the laws. This brochure and webpage should help homeless people know their rights.
Fair housing is a fundamental right, regardless of a person’s background that was a cornerstone of the Civil Rights acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. This brochure that was recently published outlines how shelters need to respect the fair housing rights of homeless people. This includes service animals, protecting the rights of LGBT individuals, and protecting against sexual harassments. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, follow the steps to filing a fair housing complaint. This brochure gives contact information for agencies who can offer assistance if you feel your rights were violated. The Housing Center has over the previous four years worked to protect the rights of homeless people who felt their rights were violated. We will have hard copies of these brochures available to distribute in the near future. Right now there is a link at the bottom of the webpage to print out and make copies of.
by Kelly the Intern
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