Homelessness is a serious problem in some areas of the United States. Many state and municipal laws put restrictions on the conduct of the homeless. In many cities, they can't panhandle, loiter, or sleep wherever they want. However, the U.S. government passed legislation in 1987 to provide some specific rights to the homeless as well, under certain circumstances.
You May Not Need a Home to Vote
The U.S. Constitution doesn't specifically grant the right to vote, so whether you can vote depends a great deal on your particular state's laws. Typically, you can vote as long as you meet your state's other requirements, including mental competency. Some states make special provisions for the homeless, allowing them to use a courthouse address for purposes of voter registration.
Your Children Have the Right to an Education
Federal law addresses the educational rights of homeless children. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, all school-age children have the right to go to school. The act defines a homeless child as not having a "fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." It requires that every U.S. public school district have a homeless liaison to help meet the educational needs of homeless children.
Some States Offer the Right to Shelter
Your right to shelter depends on your state's laws. New York law provides shelter to homeless individuals. Shelters are usually available on a first-come-first-served basis. When they're full, the government typically has no further responsibility to put a roof over your head. However, the McKinney-Vento Act requires that the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide shelter in an emergency situation. This means a public emergency, such as a hurricane, not a personal emergency, like an illness.
You Have the Right to Emergency Medical Care
The federal government gives all U.S. citizens the right to emergency medical care. This applies not only to homeless individuals, but also to anyone who can't pay for medical help. You can't go to any doctor or hospital, however. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTLA) is restricted to doctors and hospitals that participate in the Medicare program.
A Civil Rights Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the rights of the homeless people is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a civil rights lawyer.