| From Maria's Desk |
This past month two new reports documented major increases in homelessness, offering further data on the impact of the housing and economic crises. Unemployment, foreclosures and evictions are driving the increases, especially among families, many of whom are seeking emergency shelter for the first time in their lives.
According to a January report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, from 2008 to 2009 the number of homeless people in the United States increased by 3%, and the number of people living doubled up for economic reasons increased 12%, to 6 million. And in December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that in 2010 family homelessness increased 9% in the cities it surveyed. These alarming trends are getting well-deserved media attention: Last week the Huffington Post featured a home page story, a business section story, and a blog posting I wrote about the implications of the increases; a couple of weeks earlier, NPR did this important feature on "the new face of homelessness."
Yet despite the huge and growing need, and heightened public attention, resources to help are woefully inadequate. The federal government estimates that some 40% of all homeless people are unsheltered. And deeper suffering looms, as unemployment continues, housing costs remain high, and funds for social support programs are cut.
Last month, I was fortunate to attend one of the White House holiday receptions. I was encouraged to hear first hand the President acknowledging, in his remarks, the suffering of ordinary Americans and the need to address it. But as the new Congress convenes, the "conventional wisdom" in Washington is that budget cuts are inevitable.
Just a year ago, our government spent hundreds of billions of dollars on banks it considered "too big to fail." Now we must make the case that homeless men, women and children-not to mention basic principles of fairness and justice--are too important to abandon.
Homelessness is a human rights crisis right here at home, and vigorous advocacy is now more important than ever. Rather than accept cuts as inevitable, we must advocate for the increased funds needed to truly end and prevent homelessness. You can make a difference right now by calling your member of Congress and urging him or her to make ending homelessness a priority.
|Thank you! |
Thank you so much to all of you who donated to support the work of the Law Center in 2010. We are grateful for your partnership, and we couldn't do this critical work without you.
Your generosity helped change laws and change lives last year, and the impact of your gifts will be felt for years to come.
As we begin this new year, know that our homeless neighbors, and people living on the brink of homelessness, have hope because of you.
|Settlement Brings Justice to Hurricane Victims |
In December, Judge Helen G. Berrigan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana approved a settlement in a class action lawsuit on behalf of approximately 34,000 survivors of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The $2.65 million settlement requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to financially compensate victims of the hurricanes who were denied crucial housing assistance after the 2005 disasters.
The lawsuit was brought by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP; the Public Interest Law Project; the National Center for Law and Economic Justice; Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Law Clinic; Texas Appleseed; and the Mississippi Center for Justice.
The case, Diane Ridgely, et al. v. Federal Emergency Management Agency, et al., filed in April 2007, challenged FEMA's practices and procedures in administering rental housing assistance to hurricane evacuees. The complaint alleged that "FEMA's unlawful termination of Section 408 Assistance, without notice or an opportunity to be heard before termination, has resulted, and will continue to result, in countless thousands of otherwise eligible families losing their means to pay rent, prevent utility shut-offs, or otherwise provide themselves with adequate shelter."
We are excited to see a positive resolution to this case on behalf of thousands of individuals and families whose trauma from the hurricanes was exacerbated by sudden homelessness when FEMA terminated their housing benefits. This settlement serves as an important reminder to FEMA of its accountability to disaster victims and its duty to carry out its mission with the utmost care and attention to fairness and due process.
Lead counsel on the case, Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP, contributed countless pro bono hours and millions of dollars in attorneys fees and expenses over the course of the multi-year litigation. We are deeply indebted to legal counsel from Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP, whose exceptional dedication and legal talent is largely to thank for our success in this case.
Counsel from Steptoe and Johnson LLP also provided valuable pro bono assistance.
|Anti-Criminalization Advocacy in the Supreme Court |
On January 12, the Law Center and several partners filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief in a case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Turner v. Rogers, et al. is the case of an indigent man who was jailed for a year for being, in effect, too poor to pay his child support. Mr. Turner was not offered an attorney prior to his incarceration and was jailed for "civil contempt."
The case challenges a previous ruling by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, which ruled that because people like Mr. Turner can avoid jail in civil contempt cases by paying their debts, they have no right to counsel. It is the position of the Law Center, and the amicus brief argues, that the denial of counsel in these cases effectively converts them into criminal proceedings. For poor people like Mr. Turner, the ability to avoid jail without the help of a lawyer is extremely difficult and, once jailed, poor people have no actual ability to pay their debt and regain their freedom. The result is the de facto creation of a debtors' prison.
The Law Center joined the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, pro bono legal counsel from Sidley Austin LLP and Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, the Children's Law Center, and DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in filing the brief.
Participation in this Supreme Court case is part of the Law Center's on-going work to protect the civil and human rights of homeless people and to prevent the criminalization of homelessness and poverty. We hope that the Court will make clear that punishing someone merely for being poor is a serious violation of the United States Constitution.
|Meeting with UN Expert on Violence Against Women |
The Law Center will host Ms. Rashida Manjoo of South Africa, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, for a discussion of how violence against women affects homelessness and economic insecurity in the U.S. on January 26.
The Rapporteur is the UN's highest international expert on the topic of violence against women, whose mandate is to monitor the state of women's right to be free from violence.
With domestic violence as a leading cause of homelessness among women in the U.S., the Rapporteur's office has requested the Law Center's assistance to coordinate a meeting with service providers, experts, and directly-affected victims of domestic violence who have dealt with the economic and housing insecurity that accompanies women fleeing such violence.
The meeting will take place on January 26 in Washington, DC, the first stop on the Rapporteur's visit. She will also visit Cherokee, NC; Miami; San Francisco; Minneapolis; and New York on her two-week tour.
Ms. Manjoo's visit is particularly timely, as Congress is set to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this year. The Law Center's advocacy played a central role in adding key housing protections to VAWA in 2005, and will be making proposals for improvements to the Act this year. By drawing attention to the issue and emphasizing women's right to be free from violence as a human right, the Rapporteur's visit will aid advocates in achieving the strongest protections possible.
With the pro bono assistance of Dechert LLP, the Law Center has also drafted two reports to help prepare the Rapporteur for her visit, on domestic violence and economic insecurity generally, and on the particular problem of domestic violence in military families.
This will be the Rapporteur's first mission to the U.S. since 1998.
For more information, contact Domestic Violence Staff Attorney Rachel Natelson.
|Homeless Children & Youth Act of 2011 |
With the Law Center's support, as the 112th Congress opened last week, Congresswoman Judy Biggert of Illinois introduced H.R. 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011. This legislation would permit children and families living in precarious doubled up situations and being served by important federal education and social service programs, but ineligible for HUD homeless assistance, to become eligible for help from HUD. We urge advocates to support this important bill.
For more information, contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen.
|Point In Time Homeless Counts Approaching |
In the last ten days of January, Continuums of Care across the country will be conducting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's biannual Point-In-Time (PIT) Count to collect information on the demographics of homelessness. PIT counts are a one night census of homeless people in a community, and serve as the primary data source used for federal agencies working on programs related to homelessness. This data is used to analyze trends among homeless populations, assess service needs and evaluate existing programs, and raise awareness about issues affecting people experiencing homelessness.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness urges service providers to pay close attention to veterans and unaccompanied youth when planning their counts, as data on these subpopulations can be difficult to capture.
To volunteer to assist with your community's PIT count, contact your local Continuum of Care. For PIT technical assistance from HUD, contact the agency's Virtual Help Desk.
|New Intern Talent Welcomed |
The Law Center is excited to welcome its 2010/2011 winter and spring legal interns and fellows:
Victoria Wilson is the Law Center's next fellow through the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy (PHRGE) at Northeastern University School of Law. Victoria is completing her second year of law school and is focusing her legal studies on public interest law. The PHRGE Fellowship offers law student the opportunity to address economic, social and cultural rights within the US and internationally through one of Northeastern's partner organizations.
Mili K. Patel graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in May 2010 and joins the Law Center as one of the University of Miami School of Law's inaugural Legal Corps Fellows. Mili will be working in a wide range of the Law Center's program areas, particularly advocating for systemic changes that will make it easier for individuals experiencing homelessness to access social services.
Cara Baldari joins the Law Center through the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Semester in D.C. Program. As a certified legal intern, Cara advises and represented low-income clients on a variety of civil legal matters under the supervision of a practicing attorney.
|Board of Directors Profile: Tashena Middleton Moore |
Tashena Middleton Moore, Esq. is president of Second Chances Home Buyers, LLC, a real estate solutions company that specializes in buying and rehabilitating vacant and distressed property. She created the company in 2009 to leverage her passion for renovating homes to give homeowners in distress a second chance at a fresh start.
Prior to forming Second Chances, Tashena was a senior associate at Jones Day in its Washington, DC office. While at Jones Day, she represented a number of pro bono clients and participated in several legal clinics, including the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the DC Landlord Tenant Clinic, and the DC Bar Pro Bono Program Advice and Referral Clinic held at Bread for the City.
Prior to practicing law, Tashena was a investigator for the Department of Social Services in New Haven, Connecticut, where she counseled custodial parents on child support services and helped establish paternity and child support orders.
Tashena is a cum laude graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and received her undergraduate degree with distinction from Yale University, where she co-founded a biweekly soup kitchen that served a small group of homeless women.
Tashena serves as chair of the board's fund development committee. We are grateful for her energy, passion, and service.