In the mid-1980s, Maria was a litigator at Sullivan & Cromwell, a large corporate law firm, where she volunteered to represent homeless families on a pro bono basis. After seeing the impact of first-rate legal advocacy on the lives of homeless people, she left the firm to dedicate herself to that work full-time. In 1989, she established the Law Center with one goal in mind: ending homelessness in America.
“My family suffered terribly during the German occupation of Greece in World War II, and as a child I heard my parents’ stories of starvation, deprivation and loss—as well as courageous resistance—on an almost nightly basis. I wanted to use the relative privilege of my life to fight for a world where no one has to suffer the injustice of dire poverty.”
Maria has advocated for solutions to homelessness at the national level since 1985. She is a primary architect of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation addressing homelessness, and she has litigated to secure the legal rights of homeless persons. Maria has written widely on legal and policy issues affecting homeless persons; her work has appeared in scholarly as well as general audience publications. She speaks and lectures regularly on law, public policy and homelessness and is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media.
Maria is a 1977 graduate of Barnard College and a 1981 graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was Notes and Comments editor of the Law Review. She also holds a M.A. in philosophy. After graduating from law school, she clerked for the Honorable Amalya L. Kearse on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Maria is proud to be the recipient of the 2016 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize.
Eric Tars serves as the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s legal director, leading its human rights, civil rights, and children’s rights programs and managing its cutting edge litigation, strategic policy advocacy, and outreach and training initiatives at the international, national, and local levels. Eric helped spearhead the launch of the Law Center’s national Housing Not Handcuffs campaign, has served as counsel of record in multiple precedent-setting cases, including Martin v. Boise in the 9th Circuit, and is frequently quoted in national and local media, including NPR, AP, New York Times, Washington Post, and VICE News.
“My father grew up homeless, as a refugee following WWII. I believe every person deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect for basic human rights as I would have wanted to see him and his family receive.”
Before coming to the Law Center, Eric was a Fellow with Global Rights’ U.S. Racial Discrimination Program and consulted with Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Institute and the US Human Rights Network, where he currently serves as the vice-chair of the Network’s Board.
Eric received his J.D. magna cum laude as a Global Law Scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. He received his B.A. magna cum laude in political science from Haverford College and studied international human rights in Vienna at the Institute for European Studies and at the University of Vienna.
Eric also teaches human rights advocacy as an adjunct professor at Drexel University Kline School of Law.
Tristia Bauman combines litigation, legal education, and legislative advocacy strategies to prevent and end homelessness. Her work focuses on combating the criminalization of homelessness and advocating for laws that protect the civil and human rights of homeless people. Tristia also conducts legal trainings around the country, writes reports and other publications related to housing, and serves as a legal resource for homeless advocates.
“As the daughter of a disabled father and an immigrant mother, I grew up poor and I know well the barriers to success imposed by poverty. I became a public interest attorney to break down those barriers and to provide every person – people just like me – with the chance to thrive.”
Tristia began her law career at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. as a housing attorney working with low-income tenants in federally subsidized housing. She later served for several years as an Assistant Public Defender in Miami-Dade County.
Tristia hails from Auckland, New Zealand but was raised in Washington State where she attended the University of Washington as an undergraduate and law student. She received her B.A. in Anthropology in 2000 and her J.D. in 2006.
As the Operations Manager for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Deborah brings extensive experience in administration, operations, finance, project management, contracts, and facility management. A graduate of Clark University in Worcester, MA, the majority of Deborah’s career was focused on corporate and government information technology services. In 2007 she decided to pursue a second career in the non-profit field where she could contribute to social justice focused missions. Before joining the Law Center, Deborah was the Chief Operating Officer at Columbia Road Health Services, a community medical clinic providing care to the underserved of D.C. She was Director of Operations at Lutheran Volunteer Corps, an organization that matched volunteers to social justice non-profits across the country for a year of service. And recently, Deborah was Director of Operations at Luther Place Memorial Church, whose history of service and advocacy to the community and to homeless women, in particular, is extensive.
“As a fifth grader, I watched a classmate and her family picking through trash in front of the building where I lived in Harlem. While poverty, scarcity and a lack of decent housing lived out all around me, there is nothing so dreadful as watching someone you sat next to in class on Friday, picking through trash on Saturday. Maybe we don’t always see it, but innocence and dignity are big casualties of poverty. When you factor in the experience of homelessness, with its attending isolation, it’s even harder. My experience of watching this classmate taught me that you must see and bear witness to other people’s struggles, and you must do all that you can to help.”
Deborah has been volunteering most of her life, since community service in the seventh grade. Deborah specifically volunteers for organizations whose services help communities and people to thrive. She is a longtime member and volunteer of Church of the Epiphany’s Street Church community. The Street Church community is a direct outreach ministry to those experiencing homelessness and poverty. Deborah is thankful for the opportunity to use her experience and skills to further the mission of the Law Center.
Cassidy Waskowicz serves as the acting director of development and communications.
“After reading about the affordable housing crisis in the United States, I decided I wanted to help end and prevent homelessness.”
Prior to joining the Law Center, Cassidy served as the acting general counsel for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission – a commission created by Congress in 2009 to “Examine the causes of the current financial and economic crisis of the United States.” While at the Commission, Cassidy was involved in all aspects of the Commission’s legal work, including:
- Drafting and negotiating the publishing agreements of the Commission
- Advising the Commission on how to respond to requests made by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
- Coordinating the Commission’s document retention policy with the National Archives and Records Administration
- Advising Commission staff on obligations under confidentiality agreements
- Drafting staff and vendor contracts.
Before working at the Commission, Cassidy worked at Hunton & Williams, in both the firm’s New York and Washington, D.C. offices. While at the firm, Cassidy was a corporate lawyer with varied experience related to real estate, asset securitization and corporate governance. During the summer after her first year at Cornell Law School, she worked at Legal Aid, Brooklyn Office for the Aging. Cassidy also worked on Al Gore’s 2000 Presidential Campaign.
Jolie Steinert is the executive assistant. Before joining the Law Center, Jolie worked for Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Art History for three years, most recently as Program Assistant. She has interned and volunteered with ReEstablish Richmond, a refugee assistance organization, and the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). In June 2018 Jolie worked as a contractor for the DPVA, designing materials for their inaugural Blue Commonwealth Gala.
In 2018 Jolie earned a BFA in Craft and Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia with minors in Art History and Italian Studies. She hopes to utilize her creative mind to help the Law Center achieve its mission of ending homelessness. In the future, Jolie aspires to attend law school so she can use the power of the law to directly assist those in need.
Crystal Letona serves as the Communications Associate at the Law Center, where she utilizes communication tools and media outlets to initiate conversations around decriminalizing homelessness. She received her B.S. summa cum laude in communication and rhetorical studies, policy studies, and women’s and gender studies from Syracuse University. Crystal is the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college.
“I became acutely aware of the importance of equitable economic opportunity at a young age. My mom, a single parent of two, could barely afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment where she could raise my sister and I. Even as an adolescent, I knew that our situation, like many other single-parent families’, was unfair.”
Crystal is originally from Huntington Park, California, where she was raised by her Mexican-American mother and her older sister. While growing up in an underserved community, Crystal found her calling to public service at an early age. She began volunteering for political campaigns such as Wendy Greuel for Mayor of Los Angeles and Sandra Fluke for California State Senate. Crystal later went on to intern at two different City of Los Angeles offices where she strived to make local government accessible to all Angelenos. In the next few years, Crystal will pursue a law degree with a specialization in critical race studies.
Jordan Goldfarb is serving as the Development and Communications AmeriCorps VISTA at the Law Center, where he focuses on outreach for the Law Center’s work. He is a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University, with a Master’s Degree in Communication and earned his Bachelor’s of Arts in the Humanities from Washington College.
“I’ve had a fortunate life, growing up without my basic needs in question. I think it’s important for me to pay that forward, and try to make sure everyone is afforded the same opportunities I was. I would never feel right just sitting back when I could help instead.”
Jordan is a D.C. native and is now diving into the world of non-profits and policy that has shaped so much of the conversation for him locally all his life. He strives to use his communication and writing skills to help advance the conversation on homelessness.
Kelly Miller volunteers with the Law Center’s Development and Communications team, advocating for social justice and human rights issues. Kelly provides testimony of lived experience and speaks up for those who are silenced. She has given personal testimony before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and various United Nations Special Rapporteurs to bring awareness and progress to social justice.
“Homelessness can happen to anyone. As a currently homeless woman, I advocate on local, state and national platforms for basic human rights and social justice. I work to engage and educate the public and organizations of the harsh realities of homelessness.”
Kelly is originally from Eastern Kentucky and came to D.C. to advocate for her justice. She has been recognized nationally by the USHRN, receiving a “FIHRE” Fellowship honorary for her personal advocacy for others. She has also been nationally recognized by the National Whistleblower Center as a whistleblower of law enforcement and government corruption. Kelly attended Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky where she received her Master’s in Adult Education in 2008 and her Master’s in Counseling in 2010.