In Just Times: Law Center Fights Criminalization, Family Homelessness
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|Lawyers Working to End Homelessness||News and Commentary for|
Thanksgiving nears, I'm grateful for our victories in the fight to end
and prevent homelessness -- even as I'm sobered by the challenges ahead.
One especially moving victory was a highlight of our recent panel discussion with George Stephanopoulos. Danae Vachata is a very special young woman who spent part of her childhood homeless
and on her own. Thanks to her perseverance, and help from the Law
Center, she overcame tremendous legal and financial barriers put in her
way by misguided federal policies; this past May, she graduated
college, and in fall 2012, she will begin medical school to pursue her
dream of becoming a doctor.
I'm glad, too, that we at the Law Center are able to influence policy. We are now working to change the policies that almost kept Danae from her future.
have much work to do. As the economic and foreclosure crises continue,
homelessness and poverty are increasing, and families and individuals
are struggling like never before. And in many communities, they face
not only crisis but criminal punishment, as our new report shows.
Let's take a moment to be grateful for our victories, while we also remind policymakers of the need for action.
P.S. We're trying a new layout this month. Let us know what you think!
|ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Moderates Panel on Family Homelessness|
November 3, the Law Center and Goodwin Procter LLP co-hosted a luncheon
and panel discussion on the changing face of homelessness. The
event, attended by attorneys, academics, and other engaged citizens,
was an opportunity to learn more about the Law Center and featured a
frank conversation about why family homelessness has increased by 20
percent since 2007 and what can be done about it.
News' George Stephanopoulos moderated the panel, which included: Maria
Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center; Dr. Kim Hopper,
Columbia University professor and author of Reckoning with Homelessness; and Danae Vachata, a formerly homeless student who will begin medical school in fall 2012.
discussion demonstrated how the homelessness crisis has steadily been
getting worse over the last thirty years. It is receiving greater
attention now because middle class families who had never been homeless
before are finding themselves on the street, in shelters, or doubled-up
and Hopper both made a simple point: the causes of homelessness are
sundry and complex, but the solutions are not. There are proven
methods for addressing this crisis at the federal government's
disposal, but the funding
has to be there. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing
Program (HPRP) prevented or resolved homelessness for more than one
million Americans, but its $1.5 billion was not sufficient to address
the unprecedented need.
Vachata shared her inspiring personal story. After her college wrongly rescinded her financial aid because of a FAFSA loophole, Danae became homeless. After sleeping in her car for five months
the school refused her pleas for assistance, Danae contacted the Law
Center. With her persistence and the Law Center's advocacy, the
school finally conceded its decision was wrong and reinstated her
financial aid. Stephanopoulos remarked on her incredible spirit
and the importance of advocates like the Law Center.
Attendees of the event
participated in a spirited Q&A session with Stephanopoulos and the
panelists on a variety of issues, including health care and access to
postsecondary education for homeless families.
|New Report Shows Criminalization of Homelessness is Getting Worse|
poverty at record levels and as many as 3.5 million people homeless
each year, a report released by the Law Center on Tuesday shows that
more and more cities are making it illegal to be homeless. Criminalizing Crisis
analyzes local policies in 234 cities and demonstrates the startling
trend toward criminalizing basic acts necessary for homeless persons'
survival, including eating and sleeping in public.
Of the 234 cities surveyed, the report shows that:
- 40 percent prohibit sleeping in public places;
- 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in public places;
- 56 percent prohibit loitering in public places; and
- 53 percent prohibit begging in public places.
Among the 188 cities reviewed for both this report and the Law Center's 2009 report, major trends include the following:
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling;
- 7 percent increase in prohibitions on sleeping; and
- 10 percent increase in prohibitions on loitering.
Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis said, "It's unconscionable
to punish homeless people for their misfortune, but it's also
irrational fiscal policy, as this report illustrates."
According to Criminalizing Crisis,
supportive housing and shelter are much more cost-effective than
applying the criminal justice system to homelessness. Cost
studies in 13 cities and states reveal that, on average, cities spend
$87 per day to jail a person, compared to $28 per day for
shelter. A Utah study shows that the annual cost for providing a
homeless person supportive housing is $6,100, compared to $35,000 to
jail them in a state prison.
report also documents constructive alternatives to criminalization that
some cities are using to address homelessness, and includes a
comprehensive advocacy manual for advocates and homeless persons to
grade the severity of criminalization laws in their cities and pursue
constructive alternatives that address the root causes of homelessness
and protect the rights and dignity of all people.
The Law Center will host a free webinar on the report on Tuesday, November 29 at 2 p.m. EST. To register, click here.
To read the full report, click here.
|Law Center Releases State-Specific Fact Sheets for Tenants in Foreclosure|
Since 2009, when the Law Center helped pass the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act,
renters living in foreclosed properties have been guaranteed the right
to at least 90-days notice before a new owner can ask them to leave. Renters with written leases are generally allowed to remain in their homes for even longer. PTFA protects every American, but also allows for additional protections at the state and local levels. To date, almost half the states in the country have created policies that supplement PTFA.
The Law Center is working to bring clarity to this sometimes confusing legal landscape. Today,
it released a series of state-specific fact sheets to inform tenants of
additional rights they may have beyond those in PTFA. These
one-page guides are designed for residents of New York, Connecticut, Oregon, Minnesota, and Illinois. They provide basic legal information, as well as legal aid contacts who can provide advice and counsel to individual tenants.
Earlier this month, the Law Center trained students, attorneys, and
advocates on New York's protections at a conference hosted by Albany
Law School. The conference, which was sponsored by the law
school's new Tenant Foreclosure Clinic, included experts from Albany
Law, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and the University of Miami, who
provided local perspectives to supplement the Law Center's national
overview of the issues facing renters at foreclosure.
If you have questions
about renters' rights in your state, or would like to know how to
advocate for greater protections where you live, contact Law Center
Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at: (202) 638-2535.
|D.C. Metropolitan Police Issues New Guidance on Homeless Persons' Rights|
Law Center and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless are pleased
to report important progress in protecting homeless person's civil
rights in Washington, D.C. Following significant advocacy
efforts, the Metropolitan Police Department has issued General Order
OPS-308.14 governing officers' interactions with homeless persons.|
The order, effective October 31, 2011, adopts much of the language in the Law Center's Model General Police Order. It
recognizes that "in law enforcement situations involving homeless
individuals, it is preferable to make referrals to organizations that
provide services to them, and to refrain from initiating contacts that
interrupt innocent activity and may violate an individual's
constitutional rights." Specifically, it limits
officers' use of "move on" orders, requests for identification, and
searches of personal property based solely on individuals' homeless
have been working with MPD for years to adopt an internal order which
governs its relationship with D.C.'s homeless population," said Ann
Marie Staudenmaier, staff attorney at the Legal Clinic. "This
Order makes very clear that standard MPD practices which violate the
civil rights of homeless individuals will no longer be tolerated, and
provides much-needed guidance on what is considered appropriate conduct
by officers who encounter someone who is homeless."
Center Civil Rights Attorney Heather Johnson added: "This is not the
end of the process, but it is definitely a step in the right
direction. Clearly, any solution must both protect homeless persons' rights and allow police officers to do their jobs."
The Law Center works with advocates across the country to end practices that criminalize homelessness. The
Law Center's Model General Police Order, along with more information on
the impact of criminalization, constructive alternatives, and practical
tools for advocates, can be found in the Law Center's 2011
criminalization Report, Criminalizing Crisis.
|UN Human Rights Expert Meets with Law Center, U.S. Officials on Criminalization of Homelessness|
October 28, the Law Center hosted a groundbreaking meeting between a UN
human rights expert; leaders of housing and human rights organizations;
and members of the U.S. State Department, Department of Justice (DOJ),
Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and the US
Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness (USICH) to discuss the
criminalization of homelessness and strategies to oppose such
policies. The discussion also touched on the human rights
implications of poverty in general.|
The meeting, organized
by the Law Center in collaboration with the top UN expert on extreme
poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepulveda, and hosted by Law Center
pro bono partner Nixon Peabody, was in response to a UN report
documenting how criminalization practices in the U.S. and other
countries violate internationally recognized human rights standards.
officials acknowledged that violations are occurring domestically and
discussed how the recommendations from the report could be implemented
in the U.S. Proposed strategies included: increasing or
decreasing HUD and DOJ funding to states and cities based on their
treatment of homeless and poor persons; transferring foreclosed homes
to community organizations, who could use them to house homeless and
poor persons; reducing barriers to obtaining housing upon an
individual's release from prison; and the U.S. introducing a UN
resolution reaffirming that the criminalization of homeless and poor
people is contrary to human rights.
This meeting was an
unprecedented interaction between U.S. officials, non-governmental
representatives, and international experts to directly address domestic
policy based on recommendations from a UN human rights report.
The Law Center looks forward to continued collaboration with the UN,
the federal government, and other NGOs to eliminate criminalization
policies and reduce homelessness here at home.
|Important Homeless Education Changes Pass Senate Committee|
|On Thursday, October 20, the "Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization
Act of 2011" was passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and
Pensions (HELP) Committee by a vote of 15-7. The bill makes a set
of important improvements to the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless
Children and Youth (EHCY) program, long supported by the Law Center.|
it is not entirely clear when the bill will come to the Senate floor
for consideration, the Law Center hopes to see a vote by the end of the
year. To date, the House has not entertained similar
legislation. It appears that the preferred House approach will be
a series of smaller bills, as opposed to the larger legislation being
moved through the Senate.
The Senate contains a number of improvements to the existing law, including:
state dispute resolution procedures to take into account the
educational best interest of homeless children and homeless
- Ensuring that parents, guardians, or
unaccompanied youth who have exhausted local dispute procedures are
able to appeal to the State Educational Agency, and are enrolled in
school and receiving transportation pending final resolution of the
- Mandating that states ensure homeless children have access to public preschool programs.
homeless liaisons to ensure that unaccompanied homeless youth are
enrolled in school, and protecting school districts from liability for
his or her enrollment.
|Help Us Protect Homeless Persons' Voting Rights|
part of the Law Center's ongoing advocacy to protect the rights of
homeless voters, it is conducting its 2011 Barriers to Voting Survey
for services providers, advocates, and persons who are currently or
formerly homeless. The results of the survey will be published in the Law Center's forthcoming voting rights report.
The survey, which will take approximately 15 minutes to complete, can be found here. Please feel free to invite others to participate by forwarding the link.
To thank participants, the Law Center will be raffling off several $25
Amazon gift certificates among participants who complete the survey by
December 1 or December 15.
If you have any questions, please contact Civil Rights Attorney Heather Johnson
at: (202) 638-2535.
| Occupy D.C. Receives Lesson on Homelessness|
Center attorneys Heather Johnson and Geraldine Doetzer, together with
Northeastern Law Fellow Julia Lum, presented a teach-in on homelessness
at Occupy D.C. on November 7. The presentation offered a brief
overview of how the recession and housing crisis have impacted rates of
homelessness in America and touched on civil rights, vacant property,
and human rights issues.|
Occupy D.C. encampment is located in McPherson Square in downtown D.C.,
just a block from the Law Center's office. The group reserves
time each day for guest lecturers and workshops on social justice
topics. For more information or to participate in a teach-in at
Occupy D.C., contact the organizers here.
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