NLCHP News: Housing as a Human Right
||A publication of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
|Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
||Vol. 8, No. 11
||From Maria's Desk
Housing as a Human Right in the United
Last month, the Law Center, together with two
sister organizations, presented the
of our coalition of national advocates to a
meeting of the U.S. Interagency Council on
Homelessness. ICH Chair and HUD Secretary
Donovan was there, joined by Secretaries
Solis and Shinseki, along with senior staff
of the member agencies.
We presented our coalition's joint
for the National Strategic Plan to End
mandated by the HEARTH Act, and
many of our coalition's members attended. You
see photos and read ICH's write-up here.
The council's interest in hearing from
was a welcome change from past practices, and a
good-if modest-step forward. We will look
working with the council and to continued
on the plan.
This month, as you'll read below, we held our
Forum on the Human Right to Housing, bringing
together activists from around the country
for a day
and a half of discussion. To see photos from the
forum, click here. The
forum came at the end of the first official
U.S. visit of
the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Housing, a visit we co-organized, and we were
to have her with us at the opening session of
As Fred Karnas, senior advisor to HUD Secretary
Donovan, said at the forum, "Whether or not
housing is a human right, we need to act like
Right now, there's a big gap between the
to housing and our country's own housing
and practices. A strong National Plan to End
Homelessness should include a goal of closing
gap. With a more open Interagency Council and
special rapporteur's report on the U.S.
March, we must take advantage of this important
opportunity for advocacy.
||UN Expert: Millions Lack Affordable & Adequate Housing in the U.S.
On Sunday, November 8, after hearing
dozens of homeless and low-income tenants and
housing advocates at NLCHP's National Forum on
the Human Right to Housing, UN Special
on the Right to Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik
warned "Millions of people in the U.S. are
high percentages of their income to make their
monthly rent and mortgage payment, face
or eviction, and live in overcrowded and
"The number of homeless continues to rise with
increasing numbers of working families and
individuals finding themselves on the streets,"
highlighted the UN expert after visiting
DC, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles,
Pacoima and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
NLCHP partnered with the National Economic &
Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) to
special rapporteur's visit. In particular, NLCHP
organized a national briefing with housing
and site visits to locations in DC. We also
two dozen testimonies from areas where the
rapporteur could not visit during her
These were presented at the National Forum.
The forum continued the next day with
each of the cities the rapporteur visited
they are using the rapporteur's visit as part
advocacy strategies. The 150 participants in the
conference also attended workshops to learn more
about applying a human rights approach to a wide
variety of housing and homelessness issues.
The rapporteur will make her final report on
visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March
NLCHP will work with its partners to
recommendations, as well as the outcomes of the
Forum, into its national advocacy campaign
human right to housing.
Pictures from the visit are available on Flickr.
Media and other coverage of the visit is
available at the
mission blog site: http://restorehousingrights.org.
To see video of the rapporteur's remarks and
advocate testimony from around the country,
NLCHP thanks the US Human Rights Fund, Butler
Family Fund, and Cafritz Foundation for
support of its
Human Rights Program.
||Boise Suit Filed to Defend Homeless Residents
NLCHP, in partnership with Idaho Legal Aid
and Latham & Watkins, filed a lawsuit in
on October 22, 2009 on behalf of seven homeless
plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of
enforcement of two municipal laws used to
punish homeless residents for sleeping outside.
According to a government report released in
the number of homeless Boise residents ranges
2,000 to 4,500 people. However, Boise only
year-round emergency shelter beds and
cold-weather space for an additional 400 people,
leaving hundreds of residents without shelter.
Despite the lack of available shelter, the
Department has been citing and arresting
individuals for sleeping outside under the
camping and disorderly conduct laws. Since
city has issued hundreds of citations against
homeless people for sleeping outside.
The plaintiffs in the suit have been cited
the anti-camping ordinance or disorderly conduct
ordinance for sleeping outside. Penalties for
these ordinances have included incarceration.
plaintiff served 90 days in jail for his
citation under the
anti-camping law. They have also been charged
by the county for the time they were
"Jailing homeless persons for sleeping
they have nowhere else to go is not only
but a counterproductive approach to
said Tulin Ozdeger, NLCHP Civil Rights
Director. "Incarceration disrupts services
people may be receiving, and criminal records
hamper their efforts to obtain housing and
The plaintiffs assert that enforcement of the
ordinances violates their constitutional
including the Eighth Amendment right to be
cruel and unusual punishment, the right to
due process. They are seeking an injunction
enforcement of the ordinances, a declaration
unconstitutionality of enforcement,
the records related to unlawful citations
ordinances, reimbursement of fees related to
unlawful citations, and damages.
||Toward a Better Definition of "Employability"
NLCHP brought together five other advocacy
organizations to file
a support letter with the California Supreme
November 9, 2009 encouraging the Court to review
Alameda County's definition of
"employability" for its
General Assistance benefits program.
California's General Assistance benefits program
provides assistance of last resort to numerous
individuals in California. State-mandated, but
administered by county, the legislation requires
counties to provide minimal monthly
people who do not qualify for any other
programs. Counties may restrict benefits by
time limits on how long "employable"
receive benefits. Beginning January 2008,
County imposed a six-month time limitation
on "employable" individuals. It defined
as persons under 64 years of age who have no
physical, mental, or emotional incapacity
them from working.
Six plaintiffs challenged Alameda County's
in June 2008 when their benefits were
The plaintiffs requested that Alameda County
account a person's skills, experience,
literacy, vocational capacities, and other
employability factors when determining
person should be subject to the "employable"
The trial court determined that Alameda
abused its discretion by using this overly
understanding of "employability," without
practical employability factors, but the
court of appeals
reversed the decision. The plaintiffs are
the California Supreme Court on the grounds that
Alameda County's definition of "employable"
odds with the General Assistance scheme.
The Dechert law firm partnered with NLCHP to
write an eloquent and persuasive letter on
behalf of NLCHP and the five other
organizations, urging the court to review
The letter outlined the significant impact
limitation will have on low income people in
County, particularly highlighting the
in homelessness. The letter also discusses the
increased costs the county would likely incur
rise in homelessness. NLCHP thanks Dechert for
excellent work with quick turn around on the
||New Development and Communications Manager: Whitney Gent
Whitney is the Law Center's new Development and
Communications Manager. As such, she is
responsible for coordinating all of NLCHP's public
and media relations, as well as our fundraising
Prior to joining NLCHP, Whitney served as the Director
of Development at a daytime resource center for
people experiencing poverty and homelessness in
Bloomington, Indiana. She also completed her
master's degree in Rhetoric and Public Culture at
Indiana University last May, with a research emphasis
on representations of homelessness in the United
States. During her time at IU, Whitney taught
undergraduate courses in public speaking and
business and professional communication.
Whitney has also worked as a Community Relations
Specialist at a homeless day center in Indianapolis
and has done short-term development and/or
communications work in university, humanitarian aid,
and public broadcasting organizations.
She received her B.A. in speech communication from
Drury University, where she graduated summa cum
laude in 2006.
||New Grant Writer and Communications Assistant: Andy Beres
Andy Beres is the organization's Grant Writer and
Communications Assistant. In those capacities, he
researches and writes grants, authors year-end
reports, and supports the media outreach efforts of
the Development and Communications Manager.
Prior to joining the Law Center, Andy served as
Development Director for Students Sharing Coalition,
a Baltimore-based nonprofit exposing middle and
high school youth to social justice issues and offering
them meaningful opportunities to serve their
community. During his time there, Andy was
responsible for all grant writing and media outreach,
as well as the design and launch of a new website.
Andy graduated from Stevenson University in 2007,
where he received a B.A. in English Language and
Literature and was a member of the National English
NLCHP is a 501(c)(3) organization. Contact us at (202) 638-2535 or email us at