Testimony at the Public Hearing on the Human Rights Enforcement Amendment Act of 2021 to Make Homelessness a Protected Class Under the DC Human Rights Act

Chairman White and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a Senior Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to address DC’s economic and racial inequities and to build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia, through independent research and policy recommendations.

I am here today to express strong support for B24-0229, the “Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act of 2021.” DC residents experiencing homelessness report facing various types of discrimination because of their homeless status and have no recourse under the current Human Rights Act. B24-0229 would address this issue and allow residents to file complaints that could result in fines, compensatory damages, or reinstatement of jobs.

Homeless DC Residents Report Discrimination, DC Should Act to Prohibit This Discrimination

B24-0229 would make homelessness a protected class under the DC Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and income source, among other traits. This legislation would offer recourse to homeless residents experiencing homelessness from discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, educational institutions, public service, housing, and commercial space. It would allow residents to file a complaint with the Office of Human Rights that could result in fines, compensatory damage, or reinstatement of jobs.

In 2014, the National Coalition for the Homeless and graduate students at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration surveyed individuals experiencing homelessness in DC to learn about their experiences of discrimination.[1] Nearly 93 percent felt they had been discriminated against because of their homelessness by one or more kinds of institution. More than 70 percent reported being discriminated against by a private business, and nearly 67 percent reported being discriminated against by law enforcement. Nearly 50 percent reported being discriminated against by medical providers and 44 percent reported discrimination from social service providers. Respondents provided specific examples such as being turned away from a business or being denied medical care.

While 85 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness are Black[2] and many others belong to other protected classes in the Human Rights Act, discrimination against people for their homelessness is separate and distinct from other forms of discrimination. For example, a woman  is denied service at a restaurant because she appears homeless, not because of her gender. B23-0229 will address this discrimination.

The District should join the three US cities, three states, and Puerto Rico to outlaw discrimination based on housing status by passing B23-0229.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I am happy to answer any questions.

[1]Discrimination and Economic Profiling among the Homeless of Washington, DC,” National Coalition for the Homeless, revised April 2014.

[2]Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington: Results and Analysis from the Annual Point-in Time (PIT) Count of Persons Experiencing Homelessness,” Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, May 2021.