||A publication of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
|Working to end homelessness and poverty in America
||Vol. 6, No. 4
||From Maria's Desk
Last month, advocates from around the country
met in Denver for the annual Equal Justice
Conference sponsored by the American Bar
Association (ABA) and the National Legal Aid
& Defender Association (NLADA). The theme was
partnerships, and NLCHP and the ABA
Commission on Homelessness & Poverty put on a
program about "Partnerships to End Homelessness."
Our program highlighted the importance of pro
bono legal partnerships. They are crucial to
NLCHP's work because they enable us to
leverage our organization's limited resources
many times over. Because of its partnerships,
NLCHP is able to pursue major class action
litigation. For example, Goodwin Procter
devoted thousands of pro bono hours to a
lawsuit against the Long Island, New York
school system that ensured access to school
for approximately 2,000 homeless children.
Local level providers and advocates also
played a crucial role in that successful case.
Equal justice starts with access to justice.
NLCHP relies on its pro bono partners to
ensure that the rights of homeless and poor
people are protected. NLCHP advocates on all
fronts: in the courts, before legislatures
and with government agencies. We publish
reports, manuals and other materials to
ensure that advocates, policymakers and
homeless and poor people know their rights.
In the coming days we'll be launching an
improved e-mail alert to reach out to our
LEAP firms and our other pro bono law
partners. It will include information about
important pro bono needs and offer
opportunities to get involved in the fight to
end homelessness. Please let us know if
you're interested in partnering with us. In
the meantime, visit our website to find out more.
||New Lawsuit Filed Against FEMA on Behalf of Katrina Evacuees
On April 19, NLCHP and a coalition of public
interest organizations and private law firms
filed a class action lawsuit against FEMA on
behalf of low-income individuals driven from
their homes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New
Orleans, alleges that FEMA unlawfully
terminated assistance to the plaintiffs
without proper notice or a fair opportunity
to appeal the decision. The suit claims that
this practice violates their right to due
process under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution. The suit also alleges that
FEMA acts unlawfully when it cuts off
assistance to individuals that it claims were
overpaid without explaining why it believes
the person was overpaid, without informing
them that they can request a hardship waiver,
and without providing an opportunity to
contest the overpayment determination.
"FEMA is supposed to provide assistance to
people in times of great need," Cathy Bendor,
NLCHP Deputy Legal Director, said. "The
agency is cutting off vital housing
assistance to recipients who have not had a
chance to be heard and who often don't even
know why their assistance is being terminated."
The plaintiffs also contend that FEMA failed
to publish standards setting forth the
eligibility requirements, that it operated an
unresponsive system of administrative review,
and that it issued termination notices that
were confusing and contained little more than
The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring
FEMA to comply with the requirements of the
Constitution by providing individuals
displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and victims
of future disasters, with clear notification
of the reasons why they are denied continued
"Since the Gulf Coast hurricanes, FEMA's
system of administering aid has proven time
and again to be flawed," Bendor explained.
"The haphazard method in which FEMA has
administered assistance is unacceptable."
The law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP is
providing substantial pro bono legal
assistance to NLCHP's work on the lawsuit.
||State Legislatures Consider Hate Crimes Bills
Five state legislatures across the country
are currently considering legislation to
address the growing problem of hate crimes
against homeless people. All of the bills
would add homeless persons as a protected
class under their states' hate crimes statute.
In Florida, the State Senate and House are
each considering identical bills (HB 11 and
SB 1458) that would add homeless persons to
Florida's current statute. With 48
documented attacks against homeless persons
in Florida last year, the state had the
highest number of attacks of any state in
2006. Both bills passed favorably out of two
committees each and are being considered by
final committees before heading to the floors
of the House and Senate for votes.
The Texas Senate bill (SB 536) passed
favorably out of the Criminal Justice
Committee in late March and is moving toward
a vote on the Senate floor. If it passes in
the Senate, the bill will cross over to the
House for consideration.
The Nevada hate crimes bill (AB 83) passed
out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on
April 12 and is headed for a vote on the
Assembly floor. If it passes through the
State Assembly, it will cross over to the
Senate for consideration.
The hate crimes bills in Massachusetts (HB
2509) and in California (SB 122) have both
been introduced and will be considered by
committees in their respective legislatures
in the coming weeks.
While hate crimes bills are moving forward in
the above states, a similar bill in Maryland
did not pass before the Maryland General
Assembly's session ended. The Maryland
Senate passed the bill with a 38 to 9 vote in
favor of the bill. Unfortunately, the
Maryland General Assembly session ended
before the House Judiciary Committee voted on
the bill. Their vote could have moved it
before the House for a final vote.
NLCHP plans to work with the National
Coalition for the Homeless, the
Homeless Persons' Representation
Project, and other local advocates to
pass a hate crimes bill during Maryland's
General Assembly session next year.
At the end of March, the U.S. House of
Representatives Financial Services Committee
passed legislation to reform Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac (H.R. 1427) out of the full
Committee. The bill includes an
Affordable Housing Fund that would
help create housing for very low- and
extremely low-income households. The Fund
would be authorized for five years with the
first year of funding directed to Louisiana
and Mississippi to replace the affordable
housing stock lost after the Gulf Coast
hurricanes. NLCHP is working with the
National Low-Income Housing Coalition
and other affordable housing advocates to
help pass this legislation.
Also at the end of March, the full House
passed the Gulf Coast Housing and Recovery
Act (H.R. 1227). The bill contains
several important provisions, including a
stated right for all former public housing
residents to return to the Gulf Coast and a
provision to extend the Disaster Voucher
Program (DVP) until 2008. Households
that remain in the DVP program after Jan. 1,
2008 would move into the Section 8 program.
The bill would also fund 4,500 new
project-based vouchers and supply funds for
Disaster Voucher recipients to cover utility
In addition, through a Manager's Amendment,
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) added a
provision to H.R. 1227 directing the General
Accounting Office to conduct a study of
households that received federal housing
assistance because of Hurricanes Katrina or
Rita. The purpose of the study would be to
determine how many households were wrongfully
or erroneously terminated from assistance.
The report would be due to Congress by June
NLCHP is working with Gulf Coast advocates,
the National Low-Income Housing Coalition,
and other advocates to press the Senate to
pass similar legislation.
||Rep. Ellison Praises NLCHP and Declares that Housing is a Human Right
Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN)
proclaimed that "housing is a human right"
during his keynote address at NLCHP's April
10 training in Minnesota on housing and human
rights. Ellison praised the training for
creating a movement for housing rights.
"Housing forums like this are crucial,
because this helps build the national
conversation," Ellison explained.
Over 170 advocates, activists, service
providers, and lawyers from across Minnesota
attended the training, co-sponsored by the
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions
and St. Stephen's Human Services.
Rep. Ellison eloquently compared the Biblical
parable of Jesus' feeding of the masses with
homelessness and poverty in America today.
Ellison stated that when Jesus fed the
masses, his philosophy was to make sure there
was enough for all and that everyone went
home satisfied. Today, in America, there's
enough for all, but our political philosophy
is to give much to a few, and leave little
for many. Ellison said that our job is to
challenge those who say there's not enough by
pointing out that some people have too much.
The training concluded with small group
workshops to discuss the next steps towards
creating an America where housing is a human
right equally enjoyed by all. Participants
agreed to meet again in one month to develop
human rights talking points for public and
political education and to discuss
participating in shadow reporting with the
Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination later this year.
NLCHP thanks the Mertz Gilmore Foundation
and the US Human Rights Fund for their
support of regional human rights trainings.
||May Conference Focuses on Homeless Preschoolers
Horizons for Homeless Children, NLCHP,
and a number of partnering groups are
organizing the second Young Children
Without Homes National Conference in
Newton, Massachusetts from May 16-18. The
event will feature a series of workshops and
panel discussions highlighting early
childhood programs as well as the development
and education needs of preschool-aged
children. A diverse group of participants,
including service providers, educators, and
advocates, will explore current research,
best practices, legal protections and
The keynote speaker for the conference will
be Marian Wright Edelman, President
and Founder of the Children's Defense
Fund. NLCHP will co-lead a workshop
focused on the McKinney-Vento Homeless
Assistance Act and related legal protections.
Other workshops will focus on topics like
"Understanding Traumatic Stress in Children
Who Experience Homelessness," "Addressing the
Health Concerns of Homeless Families," "A
Grassroots Approach to Serving Homeless
Children," "The Importance of Play in Family
Shelters," and "Working with Homeless Teen
Parents." For more information, please visit
for Homeless Children website.
||Office Space Available for Sublet
NLCHP has a 2 person office available
immediately for sublet at $950 a month. The
office is fully furnished with desks, chairs
and file cabinets. The office also comes with
2 phone lines and free phone and internet
service. Subletters can also enjoy shared use
of our kitchen, conference room and workroom.
We are one block from the McPherson metro
station and bus lines run close by. If
interested, please e-mail Vibha
Bhatia or call her at: (202) 638 2535 ext
222. Pictures available.
||NLCHP in the Media
Read about hate crimes against homeless
people in an Associated Press article
published by the New
Read about NLCHP's lawsuit against FEMA on
behalf of low-income individuals driven from
their homes by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in
Read about states considering adding homeless
people as a protected class under hate crimes
statutes in The
NLCHP | 1411 K Street, NW, Suite 1400 | Washington | DC | 20005