The Right to Rest
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in January 2014, 578,424 people were homeless on a given night in America*. In Oregon specifically, 12,164 people were homeless in 2014. ** Oregon Patients’ Rights Association (OPRA) is concerned about this issue for many reasons. One of those reasons is the adverse health impacts that homelessness is often associated with. The National Health for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) has done research into the correlation between homelessness and health. As a result of this research they found, “High stress, unhealthy and dangerous environments, and an inability to control food intake often result in visits to emergency rooms and hospitalization which worsens overall health. Thus, it is not surprising that those experiencing homelessness are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than their housed counterparts, and experience an average life expectancy as low as 41 years”.***
Right now, Oregon’s Senate is considering Senate Bill (SB) 629. If approved, this bill would establish the Oregon Right to Rest Act. This bill would decriminalize the act of rest, which is defined in the bill as a state sleeping or moving or state of holding certain positions, such as sitting. With decriminalization would come the redirecting of resources from law enforcement activities to activities that address root causes of homelessness and poverty. Moreover, this bill would extend rights that most people have in their homes to the public spaces where a person experiencing homelessness is.
OPRA supports SB629. We believe the right to sleep or even just sit on a bench without law enforcement harassing or even criminally penalizing people is the least we can do for our homeless population. We all need to rest unharassed; it is critical to our health and well-being. This includes homeless people. Since we know that negative health outcomes and homelessness are connected, we view this as a public health issue. While we believe ending homelessness is the only real way to resolve issues created by homelessness, we support SB 629 because it is important step in acknowledging that our homeless population is not currently given even the basic human rights that those of us with homes often take for granted.
Since SB629 is currently in the Oregon Senate, you could make an impact on the passing of this important piece of legislation by calling or emailing your representative in the Oregon Senate to let them know that you support the right for homeless people to rest and would like for them to support SB629. Additionally, you can spread the word about SB629 so others can impact, too.