A Madison committee heard from the director of the Madison Department of Civil Rights Thursday, another step in the process of reviewing adding homelessness as a protected class in the city.
Madison would be the first city in the nation to adopt homelessness as a protected class if the proposal is successful. It would join race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and more as specific groups or identities that are protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.
The proposal to add homelessness to the list of protected classes has been passed down from the Equal Opportunities Commission to different city committees to collect feedback and recommended amendments before it is passed.
The Community Development Block Grant Committee heard an overview from Lucía Nuñez, director of the DCR, who explained the EOC’s and DCR’s aims and guidelines for what they would like to propose as a finished project.
Members of the committee were troubled that the public accommodation protection was not included in the proposal. Nunez said this was because Ald. Anita Weier, District 18, requested public accommodation not be protected for the homeless.
CDBG Chair Daniel O’Callaghan said it is the committee’s responsibility to ensure policies like this one do their best to prevent and eliminate homelessness. As it stands, the proposal did not achieve that mission because of the exclusion of public accommodation, according to O’Callaghan.
“They’ve asked us for our input, and I think we’d ought to give it to them,” O’Callaghan said. “If we’re going to look at protecting homelessness—and that’s a class who are most vulnerable in our community—I think it deserves protection not just in housing or employment, but in all areas.”
The committee approved a motion to recommend the addition of public accommodation to the proposal, and also moved to broaden the proposal’s definition of homelessness to include those who have unstable housing arrangements and those who are at risk for homelessness.
Committee member Colin Bowden said it was important to include those at risk for homelessness because members of that group also see discrimination and often have the most problems retaining housing.
“Risk of homelessness is a real status that does exist,” Bowden said. “It is a disparity that’s growing at a large rate … There are people who have it really rough who are, for a lot of reasons, being discriminated against because they look, or seem, or smell, or sound like they are a problem or a threat because of their economic standing.”
O’Callaghan said several other committees will submit recommendations for the proposal before the EOC creates the final version.