Texas Homeless Network

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Experiencing Homelessness as a Person with a Disability

Experiencing Homelessness as a Person with a Disability

By: Tracy Ferezan

Have you ever been grateful to have a roof over your head? Have you ever felt relief that you did not have a disability that prevented you from doing things in life such as daily chores? Now imagine if you will, having the before mentioned disability without a place to live. Do you know what happens to a person who goes to a shelter that requires the ability to do daily chores as required for admission?

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The American Disability Act (ADA) passed into law on July 26, 1990, by George W.H. Bush (ADA, 2021). The ADA clearly outlines equality for people who have a disability(ies). However; as you may have already guessed there are many loopholes.

View of demonstrators as they hold a banner (that reads 'Disability Rights are Human Rights') during the Non-March For Disabled Women inside Grand Central Station, New York, New York January 19, 2019. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images), New York, New York January 19, 2019. (Photo by Barbara Alper/Getty Images)

To become a resident at a shelter there are often requirements that range from completing daily chores, serving meals, volunteering in the shelter, seeking employment, attending meetings, etc. The list can be endless. Some disabilities require a person to be in a wheelchair. This person might not be able to stand and might not be able to walk. How does this person commit to completing daily chores? If you are shaking your head since you think you know the answer then good. You guessed it! The person seeking shelter may be denied access to the shelter. This is a loophole in the ADA. 

In December of 2008, an agreement was reached in the District of Columbia (DC) which resolved the investigation of the homeless shelters in DC after numerous complaints about ADA violations in the program for individuals with disabilities (ADA, 2008). A few examples of the changes made per the settlement agreement (ADA, 2008) include: “readily accessible to and usable” (para. 3) and a modification of the rules for “food storage or kitchen access for” (para 4.) a person with a disability which requires a special diet and “effective communication” (para. 5) to applicants and residents of the shelter who have a disability which involves sight, talking, or hearing. Finally, the shelter staff had to complete training on the rights of people with disabilities. This was in the nation’s capital! 

A person with a disability is covered under the Disability Discrimination Laws in the following ways (ADA, 2020):

      1. Limited ability of one or more major life activities due to physical or mental impairment (ADA, 2020)
      2. Record of the impairment (hospitalization is a standing record) (ADA,2020)
      3. Being thought of by others as having an impairment and refused service (there is no actual impairment) (ADA,2020)

Taken directly from the ADA A Guide to Disability Rights Laws (ADA, 2020); shelters are to remove entrance criteria that screen out a person with a disability or types of disabilities Please read that again. 

In 2018, Disability Rights Texas defined clear parts of Title III of the ADA regarding shelters. I encourage you to visit their website to learn more. 

I chose to write this blog as an advocate for people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. If you are interested in writing about an intersectional topic related to housing and homelessness, reach out to Nick Thompson at nick@thn.org. To read the rest of this blog series, please visit THN’s blog here. 

      • American Disabilities Act (February, 2020). A guide to disability rights laws. United States 
      • Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. https://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm
      • American Disabilities Act (15 December, 2008). Fact sheet: Settlement agreement in U.S. v. 
      • District of Columbia. United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
      • https://www.ada.gov/dc_shelter_factsheet.htm
      • American Disabilities Act (2021). Introduction to the ADA. United States Department of Justice 
      • Civil Rights Division. www.ada.gov
Experiencing Homelessness as a Person with a Disability
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