Growing up on military bases overseas, I learned early on how much other countries respected and admired U.S. values. From the military wives, there were many lessons on the importance of building community and the need for crisis intervention for our military personnel and their families. I felt pride in my country and my country’s people. I saw the value in a country that represented equality, equity, justice and opportunity. Held dear to my heart are the words written in our Declaration of Independence, “unalienable rights given to all humans by their creator, and which governments are created to protect, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This, combined with my Buddhist and Christian upbringing, I found courage, strength, compassion, empathy and brotherly and sisterly love — a solid foundation that has guided me throughout my life. I believe in good work and the necessity of “good trouble” in creating a more perfect union. For this reason, I have involved myself in helping others without judgment.
Today, there is a great need to raise our voices to improve the condition of those experiencing poverty and houselessness. If you’re reading the news, then you know there is a housing crisis, that many workers lack a living wage, that medical debt is real, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and a slowed economy. Certainly, runaway capitalism has not brought benefit and betterment to all of society but has in fact reinforced self-serving and selfish desires for wealth and prestige, which has further created a class divide and economic hardships for many.
It seems counterintuitive that, in this country with “unalienable rights to all humans,” we need laws protecting human beings. When we create anti-houseless architecture instead of building accessible sanitation and hygiene facilities; when we criminalize those experiencing houselessess instead of providing more programs and housing; when we perpetuate stigmas that are harmful and dangerous instead of understanding and accepting, we become an inhumane society.
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.” Leviticus 25:35-36
Reality dictates that we do need to spell out rights for those underrepresented. Therefore, in collaboration with the Alaska Poor People’s Campaign, we propose an Alaska Homeless Bill of Rights.
All unhoused people should have the right to:
1. Equal access of basic human rights that are necessary for sustaining life with dignity, shelter, hygiene and sanitation, medical and emergency care, clothing, food and social services;
2. Move freely in public places similar to housed individuals without harassment or intimidation;
3. Have equal access and opportunities for employment: orientation, assistance, training and retraining;
4. Exercise equal civic privileges, including the right to register to vote and to vote;
5. Have personal information protected;
6. Have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding personal property;
7. Receive equal treatment by state, county and municipal authorities;
8. Allow for fair and equal access to resources: housing, social services and benefits, and supportive housing;
9. Protection from mistreatment by law enforcement.
Without a moral compass to guide us, individuals and families who are economically disadvantaged are criminalized and stigmatized by institutions and systems that create impossible hurdles to succeed and maintain life with purpose, security and stability. By violating one’s rights to human dignity, we break from a promise to pursue life, liberty and happiness. People deserve protections against immoral systemic behaviors. Therefore, it’s a moral imperative that Alaska adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights.
Dana Dardis is an advocate, writer, poet, artist and student enrolled in a Substance Use Disorder Professional (SUDP) program. She holds a B.A. and M.Ed.
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