| From Maria's Desk |
Last week, in an official document filed with the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Obama Administration acknowledged that homelessness in America implicates our country's human rights obligations. It's the first time the U.S. government has done so.
This is an important victory for the Law Center and the dozens of other national and grassroots organizations, and homeless people, we've worked with for over a year to get to this result, as described in the article below. In fact, it's an important victory for anyone who believes in human rights for all.
It comes at a critical time. Recent studies show a startling 9% average increase in family homelessness in 2010 alone, in addition to a 12% increase (to 6 million) in the number of people who are living doubled up-sleeping on a friend's or relative's couch or floor because they can't afford their own place to live. Fueled by the foreclosure and economic crises, these increases mean suffering now for affected families and individuals, and future challenges for the children involved. Yet proposals for budget cuts, some more draconian than others, are now pending in Congress, threatening even deeper suffering.
In its report to the Human Rights Council, the U.S. expressed support for the Council's recommendations to "reinforce" safeguards to protect the rights of homeless Americans as well as to "reduce" homelessness, as part of the U.S.'s human rights obligations. Now the question is: will our government make good on these statements?
As advocates, we now have another tool with which to argue for increases, not cuts. Homelessness is a human rights crisis. Please make this case to your representatives in government. Congress is currently debating this year's budget and in the coming months next year's budget will be under consideration. Many people in Washington play the game of what is "realistic," asking for small strategic funding increases that seem potentially achievable. That isn't our role - our job is to advocate for resources that will put us on a path to ending homelessness in this country.
So please contact your federal legislators, in the House and Senate, and talk to them about the people you serve and the needs you see in your community. Let them know how many people need a place to live, and ask your representative to commit the resources needed to provide that housing. If they ask how they should pay for it, there are a lot of choices. They could reform the mortgage interest deduction so that government no longer subsidizes second homes, or homes worth more than $500,000. They could cut the defense budget. Or they could cut corporate subsidies. Whatever they do, we have to reframe this year's budget debate so that it won't be about how much to cut - a little or a lot - but about how we're going to meet our human rights obligation to reduce homelessness.
And please join us at this year's National Forum on the Human Right to Housing -- and spread the word! It's more important than ever.
|National Forum on the Human Right to Housing |
Registration is now open for the National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, June 7-8, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
The forum offers an opportunity to learn more about the exciting work going on across the country and around the world in advocacy for the right to housing, including the success of the UPR process, and to participate in planning for the next steps we can take together.
Workshops will discuss a wide range of timely topics, from the rights and needs of homeless and unstably housed children to an education, to housing rights of domestic violence survivors, to human rights approaches to budget analysis. It will conclude with a Congressional briefing on the right to housing, and an opportunity for advocates to meet with their representatives.
Confirmed speakers include:
- Peter Edelman, professor of law and director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, Georgetown University School of Law
- Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author of Nickel & Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
- Pam Fessler, poverty & philanthropy correspondent, National Public Radio
- Bryan Green, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing at HUD
- Johnathan Harwitz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy & Programs at HUD
- Gail Laster, Deputy Chief Counsel for the House Financial Services Committee
- Barbara Poppe, Executive Director, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
- And more!
The forum is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty. We are grateful for the support of the U.S. Human Rights Fund; Au Bon Pain; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; and Jones Day.
And check out the forum web page for more great details!
|Help Preserve Housing & Crucial Services in the Budget|
The Federal Government is currently operating under a temporary continuing resolution, meaning that Congress and the Administration have agreed to funding for federal programs only through Friday, March 18. The Administration, the House, and the Senate continue to negotiate on spending beyond this date. Another short term extension of spending authority seems likely, though it is possible that one will not pass and the government will shut down.
This year, the new Republican House approved budget cuts in a resolution (H.R. 1) that would reduce spending by $60 billion over last year's budget. If this legislation passes, our colleagues at the National Alliance to End Homeless have estimated that 161,000 people who would be housed will become homeless instead.The Senate has yet to approve a specific proposal, but Senate Democrats have signaled a willingness to approve cuts of at least $10 billion below last year's funding. Any final budget bill is likely to make cuts somewhere between these competing proposals.
The Law Center is working to ensure that critical housing and human services programs receive additional resources, reflecting President Obama's stated goal of not balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans, articulated in this year's State of the Union address. The current Democratic proposal would provide $200 million new funding for HUD's homeless assistance grant funding, which in turn would permit HUD to implement the HEARTH Act and provide housing to more homeless persons. Other critical affordable housing and human services programs would receive level funding. On the other hand, H.R. 1, as approved by the House, would cut $5.5 billion from HUD programs, including:
- $210 (70%) million for housing for people with disabilities
- $551 (71%) million for senior housing
- $1 billion (43%) for public housing capital needs
- $1 billion (46%) for Community Health Centers, which includes Health Care for the Homeless funding.
- $70 million (17%) in Legal Services Corporation funding
Please contact your Members of Congress to oppose the severe cuts found in the House bill, and support investments proposed by the Senate. You can reach Congressional offices by dialing (202) 224-3121. Calls to Congress should explain that efforts to end homelessness will not succeed unless funding is preserved for the range of affordable housing, health care, and human services programs that drive this work in communities across the country, and urge Senators and Representatives to quickly reach an agreement which provides adequate resources for these programs through the end of the fiscal year.
Questions? Contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell Us Your Story: Renters' Rights in Foreclosure
Despite the successes associated with passage of the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 (PTFA), and the clarifications and extensions made in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Financial Services Act, the Law Center receives calls every week from tenants who aren't aware of their new rights under federal and state law. In fact, just last month the Washington Post published a special advertising supplement on "renters rights" with outdated, wrong information -- correcting it with accurate information only after advocacy by the Law Center.
In order to educate stakeholders about their rights and responsibilities, gain a more complete picture of the status of PTFA around the country, and strengthen our advocacy efforts on behalf of tenants, the Law Center is launching a comprehensive PTFA Violations Database.
In order to determine where and how these violations are occurring, the Law Center has partnered with dozens of local organizations around the country to gather information about the experiences of renters in the foreclosure crisis. We will use the data we collect to work with advocates, federal agencies, and Congress to enforce and improve the law. Please tell us your story!
- If you are a renter living in a foreclosed property, click here to tell us about your experiences.
- Haga clic aquí para ver una versión en español.
- If you are an advocate who works with tenants, click here to tell us about the problems facing your clients.
These surveys are also available in hard copy, by telephone, or by email. Please contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at email@example.com for more details.
|Homelessness Reduction and Human Rights in the U.S. |
On March 10, the United States government filed its official response to recommendations it received from the United Nations Human Rights Council, marking the first time that the Administration has acknowledged that homelessness in the U.S. implicates its human rights obligations.
The U.S. has been engaged in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process for more than a year. It began with a series of government consultations in a dozen cities across the country, throughout which housing was the number one human rights issue raised, according to government sources. The U.S received 228 recommendations at its review by the Council in November, including a number on housing and homelessness. The Law Center led a group of advocates in calling on the U.S. to accept these recommendations and connect them to concrete actions.
In its response, which it will present officially on March 18 in Geneva, the Administration indicates it supports the Council's recommendations to take steps both to 'reinforce' safeguards to protect the rights of homeless Americans and to reduce homelessness, as well as to improve social protection coverage, to ensure the rights to food and health for all, and to commit to "[c]ontinue its efforts in the domain of access to housing, vital for the realization of several other rights, in order to meet the needs for adequate housing at an affordable price for all segments of American society."
The Law Center will continue to work with its partners, including through presenting testimony at a Congressional briefing on March 31 on the UPR and Congress' ongoing role to implement our human rights obligations.
|Survey: Criminalization of Homelessness |
The Law Center is also conducting a national survey on laws and measures that penalize homeless people for conducting life-sustaining activities in public - laws that essentially criminalize the status of being homeless. To gather this information we are surveying providers, advocates and homeless individuals across the country. The results of the survey will be published in our July 2011 report on the criminalization of homelessness and used in our advocacy efforts.
We invite you to take 10-15 minutes to share your experiences with criminalization by completing the survey by April 8 and to distribute the survey link to your partner and member organizations to help increase the survey's reach.
Please contact Stefani Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org with any additional questions or comments. Thank you for participating!
|UN Expert Decries Criminalization of Homelessness |
The UN Independent Expert on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, conducted a mission to the U.S. this past month. Stops included meetings with Congress, the Administration, and the Law Center in D.C; and a visit to a tent city in Sacramento, Calif.; as well as stops in Boston and North Carolina.
Ms. de Albuquerque released her preliminary report on March 4. She noted the increase in criminalization of homelessness and detailed the story of Tim, a homeless man who facilitates the removal of hundreds of pounds of human waste from the homeless encampment each week.
She stated, "The fact that Tim is left to do this is unacceptable, an affront to human dignity and a violation of human rights that may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. An immediate, interim solution is to ensure access to restrooms facilities in public places, including during the night."
This is the strongest, most clear statement by a UN expert to date on the issue of the criminalization of homelessness, and given its condemnation in terms similar to our own 8th Amendment's protection from cruel and unusual treatment, one we hope will lend itself to protecting homeless persons' rights in the courts.
The Law Center will work to build on this strong language as it attends an international conference on criminalization of poverty later this month, hosted by the UN Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty.
Ms. de Albuquerque's final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council this fall.
Read more about the independent expert's visit.
|Homeless Family Gets to Stay in School |
The Law Center's assistance and advocacy recently yielded a victory for a Connecticut family challenging a school enrollment decision under the McKinney-Vento Act. After losing their housing, the family moved to a motel and continued to reside there while seeking permanent housing within their means. Upon learning that the family no longer resided within the school district where they had been housed, the district instructed the parents to enroll their children in the town in which their motel was located.
Citing a 2006 State Department of Education hearing decision, the district argued that children living in motels due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations do not categorically qualify as homeless, but, rather, are eligible only in the event that a motel room is "inadequate." With the Law Center's intervention, the parents succeeded in establishing that since their economic circumstances and inability to secure affordable permanent housing rendered them eligible for the protections of the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the adequacy of their motel accommodations should not be a relevant factor in the State's decision. In keeping with the State's finding of eligibility, the children continue to attend school in their original district - providing them with important stability during this tumultous time.
More information about our children & youth program.
|Pro Bono Corner: In-House Pro Bono Forum |
The Law Center was invited to attend and present at the Pro Bono Institute's Annual Seminar and Forum on In-House Pro Bono on March 4. Always a timely and insightful event concerning trends and best practices in pro bono, the focus of this year's seminar was on maintaining momentum for pro bono work in a changing economy.
We presented during the Pro Bono Expo, discussing emerging issues and trends in homelessness and poverty law, as well as new ways lawyers can assist in the fight to end and prevent homelessness, protect homeless people's civil rights, and protect homeless children's right to public education. Additionally, Law Center attendees learned about ways to develop multi-institutional, collaborative pro bono projects; recurring ethical issues in a pro bono practice; the evolving law firm business model and its impact on pro bono work at private law firms; and ways to overcome emerging obstacles to undertaking new, major litigation in a recovering economy.
Law Center staff enjoyed catching up with many long-standing pro bono partners and meeting many new partners. We look forwarding to building many new pro bono partnerships in the coming year!