When the Judiciary Committee held an agency oversight hearing on the Office of Human Rights, we took the opportunity to submit testimony about discrimination against people experiencing homelessness in the District.
Chairman McDuffie and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony. Hyacinth’s Place is a partner in a campaign to end discrimination against people experiencing homelessness by affording them equal protection under the D.C. Human Rights Act. Enforced under the D.C. Office of Human Rights, amending the D.C. Human Rights Act is under the purview of the Judiciary Committee, and we respectfully ask for your leadership in supporting our efforts.
Enacted in 1977, the D.C. Human Rights Act grants legal protections to groups identified as targets of systematic discrimination in four areas: employment, housing, education, and public accommodations. Groups under this law include race, sex, age, marital status, disability, and religion. Since its enactment, the D.C. Human Rights Act has been amended several times to include categories such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and status as a survivor of domestic violence. Today, the D.C. Human Rights Act protects 19 groups of people., We are urging our legislative leaders to add homelessness to this list.
Hyacinth’s Place provides permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless women with a mental-health diagnosis. As part of their recovery, many of our residents are working to overcome deep-seated stigma that became internalized during their experiences with homelessness. They’re not imagining it—discrimination against people experiencing homelessness is one of the few prejudices that is still accepted in many corners of society.
There is ample evidence that prejudice against people experiencing homelessness is a reality in the District. In a 2013 survey of Washingtonians experiencing homelessness, a majority reported having experienced discrimination in at least one of the areas protected by the D.C. Human Rights Act. In one alarming instance, a homeless individual reported that after being stabbed, a paramedic accused him of seeking emergency care simply to avoid the rain. It is the very definition of discrimination that a health-care provider applied the stereotype that some homeless people may turn to hospitals as a shelter of last resort in order to justify denying this individual medical attention.
The current absence of protections is not just dangerous, it is counterintuitive. Without an anti-discrimination policy, it is legal to deny a person the very tools necessary to end a period of homelessness; for example, being blocked from job or educational opportunities makes housing cost-prohibitive. Defying logic, under current law a potential landlord can deny a person housing because he or she is homeless—a catch-22.
Changing this policy would put D.C. at the forefront of a national movement to counteract prejudice against people experiencing homelessness. Since 2012, at least three states and one territory have established such provisions; at least seven states and two cities are currently considering anti-discrimination policies.,
There is a far simpler reason to effect this policy change: it is an issue of equality. The District has a proud history of championing social and economic justice; making sure that health-care providers, store owners, and prospective employers and landlords cannot discriminate against homeless people with impunity would be a direct reflection of those values.
Thank you again for the opportunity to submit testimony. We look forward to working with you to right this injustice.
 Title 2, Chapter 14 – Human Rights District of Columbia Code
 Race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibility, political affiliation, disability, matriculation, familial status, genetic information, source of income, place of residence or business, status as a victim of domestic violence/sexual assault/stalking.
 For six of the protected traits, legal protections apply only to some of the four areas.
 Discrimination and Economic Profiling Among the Homeless of Washington, D.C. National Coalition for the Homeless, George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. http://nationalhomeless.org/publication/view/discrimination-economic-profiling-2014/. (2014).
 Rhode Island, Illinois, Connecticut, and Puerto Rico.
 California, Delaware, Minnesota, and Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Two cities also are considering passage: Madison, Wisconsin and Baltimore, Maryland.