||News and Commentary for May 2010
|Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
||Vol. 9, No. 5
||From Maria's Desk
a Good Plan Matters
Later this week, the Obama Administration
will release its new plan to end and prevent
homelessness. By law, the U.S. Interagency
Council on Homelessness is charged with
developing this plan and presenting it to
Congress no later than May 20, 2010. This
requirement, contained in the HEARTH
Act, was something that the Law Center
advocates pushed for.
But a plan, no matter how powerful, will not
house a single homeless person. So, does it
Yes, but part of why it does depends on us.
The plan will be the Obama Administration's
official policy position on homelessness. It
will give direction to the federal agencies
and guidance to state and local governments.
If the plan is written as we expect, it will
set measurable goals and targets and
encourage cross-agency collaboration. This
will be crucial to reforming federal systems.
But above all, the plan is about creating
accountability. Last March, President Obama said:
"I'm heartbroken that any
child in America is homeless.... it is not
acceptable for children and families to be
without a roof
over their heads in a country as wealthy as
ours." Amen. But what will he
do about it? The forthcoming plan is the
Administration's chance to spell this out.
Our recommendations to the Administration
included many specifics endorsed by the Law
Center and by many other advocates, centered
on these key issues: housing, income, health
care, education and civil rights. We also
emphasized the importance of affirming that
housing is a basic human right: If in fact
the Administration believes that homelessness
is not "acceptable," as the President said,
it should have no trouble making this
explicit statement in its plan to end
When the plan is released, it will be up to
advocates to do two things.
First, to tell it like it is: Will the plan
do the job? (To see our recommendations to the
ICH on the Plan, click
here.) Second, to make
sure it happens. Even the best plan will mean
nothing if it's not implemented.
A plan, alone, will not end homelessness.
But a good plan will be an important step in
the right direction.
||Arizona Immigration Law Boycott
Last week, the National Law
Center on Homelessness & Poverty joined
other civil and human rights organizations in
the Arizona boycott. The boycott was
precipitated by Arizona's adoption of a new
law that imposes harsh requirements on
immigrants and gives police authority to stop
and demand documents from anyone they have
reason to suspect might be an illegal
immigrant. But the issues at stake go beyond
immigration, and the links to homelessness
and poverty are pretty direct.
The law imposes requirements that are
difficult or even impossible for many poor
people to meet--regardless of immigration
status. Driven by the foreclosure
crisis and the recession, the diverse and
overwhelming homeless population continues to
grow. As it is a population that consists
disproportionately of people of color, the
fear of racial profiling associated with the
Arizona law can have exponential effects on
Worse, people who have lost their homes will
be much less able to produce the documents
that the new law now allows police to
require. Once lost, some documents can be
literally impossible to replace. Without a
government identification document, for
example, it can be impossible to gain entry
to a government building--and to apply to
replace the missing document.
The possible ramifications of the Arizona law
will not simply affect its illegal immigrants.
While it implies possible civil
rights violations, it most importantly
ignores the interests of those who are
already marginalized because of poverty,
immigrant status, color, or all of the above.
The above is an excerpt from Maria
Foscarinis's Huffington Post blog on May 11.
To read the full article click
||Salt Lake City Pushes Back on Anti-Sleeping Ordinance
On April 28, the Law Center provided a web
human rights and homelessness for a small
group of advocates in Salt Lake City, Utah at
the request of Bill Tibbits, from Crossroads
Urban Center. The training focused on issues
of the criminalization
of homelessness, where
homeless people are ticketed for actions like
sleeping, sitting, or eating in public places.
After the training, advocates decided to
conduct a "sleep-in" in a public park,
receiving excellent press
emphasizing the human rights perspective that
sleeping is a necessity of life, and when a
person does not have a private place to do
that, to deny them the ability to sleep is to
deny their right to live as a human being.
Sleeping in the park is no one's idea of a
permanent solution, but until there is enough
affordable housing available for all, cities
should not violate the human rights of
homeless people just because they have
nowhere else to go.
Following the sleep-in, the Chief of Police
invited Tibbits to a press conference where
he thanked him for drawing his attention to
this issue, stated that he intended to halt
enforcement of the City's anti-camping
ordinance and that he planned to ask the
Council to make some revisions to the ordinances.
The Law Center will continue to work with local
advocates to advance the human rights of
homeless persons in Utah and across the country.
For more information regarding Constitutional
and human rights problems with anti-sleeping
||Advocacy Leads to Panhandling Law Veto
On Tuesday, April 21, a letter submitted to
the City Council by the National
Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty lead
to a mayoral veto of an aggressive
panhandling law that would have posed major
constitutional and human rights concerns for
homeless people in Seattle. C.B.
116807 would have violated First
Amendment rights by restricting free speech
without an adequate justification for doing
so. Vague language in the ordinance could
make it difficult to enforce, which would
increase the likelihood of criminalizing
Though the council did pass the ordinance on
a 5-4 vote, the mayoral
veto stopped its enactment. The
submitted letter suggests that a dedication
to programs that promote affordable housing,
more accessible health care, or other
solutions to homelessness would be a much
improved use of Seattle's time and resources
than pursuing actions that merely result in
civil rights violations
The letter is consistent with previous
advocacy by the Law Center, with an emphasis
on constructive alternatives to laws like
C.B. 116807, which penalize people
experiencing homelessness instead of working
to improve their situations. Cited examples
include Madison, Wis., and Ft. Lauderdale,
Fla., where outreach teams have successfully
reduced solicitation by connecting homeless
people with resources and housing, rather
than arresting or ticketing them.
To read the full letter, click here.
||House Introduces Homeless Education Bill
On Wednesday, May 12, U.S. Representative
Judy Biggert (R-IL) introduced the
"Educational Success for Children and Youth
Without Homes Act of 2010," H.R.
Rep. Biggert was joined by
Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI),
Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA),
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), and
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) as original
co-sponsors of the legislation.
The bill, like its Senate companion bill,
S. 2800, introduced in November 2009, is
in large part on recommendations developed
through a broad consultation process with
schools, service providers, and homeless
individuals by the Law Center and our
partners at the National Association for the
Education of Homeless Children & Youth (NAEHCY).
The "Educational Success for Children and
Youth Without Homes Act of 2010" reauthorizes
and amends the McKinney-Vento Act's Education
for Homeless Children and Youth program and
related laws. The amendments reinforce and
expand the McKinney-Vento Act's protections
of homeless children's right to attend
school, including after natural disasters,
and crucially expands funding sources to meet
transportation needs. A summary of the
legislation is available here.
The Law Center thanks Representatives
Platts, Fudge, and Sestak for their attention
to the needs of homeless children and youth,
and encourages its readers to call their
and ask them to
co-sponsor these important pieces of
bipartisan legislation. A sample letter is
||Take Action: Urge an Executive Order on Human Rights
President Obama is now considering issuing an
executive order on human rights. In this time
of economic crisis, the executive order would
address the human rights obligations of the
United States and put concrete action behind
President Obama's recognition that human
rights begin at home. The Law Center, in
partnership with the Human Rights at Home
Campaign, has been pressing the
Administration to issue a comprehensive
executive order that would integrate the
U.S.'s human rights commitments into all
agencies of the government.
Please consider writing a letter to President
Obama to press him to issue an executive
order that will bring human rights home.
To learn more, and for sample letter text,
||U.S., UN Receive Housing Rights Recommendations
On April 19, as a part of the United States'
first ever comprehensive human rights review
by the United Nations, advocacy groups and
service providers nationwide submitted
reports examining U.S. compliance with
international human rights obligations as
required under the UN Charter, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and other human
One coalition, lead by the Law Center,
focused on U.S.
violations of housing rights, and offering
concrete steps the government can take toward
realizing a human right to housing.
"There is no more clear violation of human
rights than the fact that we've got millions
of homes and apartments made vacant by the
economic crisis, but people are living on the
streets," said Eric Tars, the Law Center's human
rights program director.
This report was produced by 14 national and
local housing organizations, with an
additional 54 organizations' sign on. It
offers a comprehensive review of housing
rights violations in America, and makes
recommendations including: 1) expanding
federal programs making vacant properties
available for use as housing, 2) placing a
moratorium on demolitions of public housing
and mandate one-for-one replacement on
subsidized units, and 3) removing policies
that prevent people from accessing existing
housing, such as lifetime bans for minor arrests.
This Universal Periodic Review process holds
UN member countries accountable to human
rights standards by requiring that all
members submit reports to the Human Rights
Council every four years. This is the United
States' first review since the UPR was
created in 2006. The U.S. government will
submit its own report in August, and the
review by the UN will take place on November
5 in Geneva. The Law Center will continue its
advocacy with the UN to ensure housing rights
concerns are elevated through the process.
To read the report, click
The Law Center would like to thank all of the
generous donors who contributed in response
to our spring fundraising appeal. Your gifts
Didn't get a chance to donate? Click
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