In the mid-1980s, Maria Foscarinis 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 is a primary architect of the landmark Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation addressing homelessness, and she has litigated precedent-setting cases to secure the legal rights of homeless persons. She has developed major advocacy initiatives including, most recently, the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign; testified repeatedly before Congress; published dozens of articles, book chapters and opinion pieces; speaks regularly about legal and policy issues affecting homeless and poor persons; and is frequently quoted in the media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, NPR, Bloomberg, and the BBC. Among her most recent publications is Strategies to Address Homelessness in the Trump Era: Lessons from the Reagan Years.
Maria is a 1977 graduate of Barnard College and a 1981 graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was an 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. Among other honors, Maria is the recipient of the 2016 Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize from Santa Clara University’s School of Law. She serves on the advisory board of the Columbia Law School Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program, and holds an adjunct appointment at Columbia Law School.
Maria has been profiled in publications including the New York Times Sunday Magazine, L.A. Times, Washingtonian and, most recently, in the English-language edition of Kathimerini, a major Greek daily.
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.
Brandy Ryan is the Law Center’s newest Staff Attorney. She has previously worked with the Law Center as an intern and post-grad fellow, working on housing policy in the Violence Against Women Act and several research projects and toolkits benefitting homeless youth. Brandy will continue in policy work and will join the Law Center’s litigation team.
Brandy graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in December 2018. Her work during law school focused on veterans and the specific legal challenges facing them even decades after their service, and her studies focused on civil rights and constitutional law. Brandy is originally from Louisiana, will never miss an opportunity to get Cajun food, and hopes to get a dog as soon as possible.
Carlton Martin serves as the Law Center’s Pro Bono Manager, responsible for handling relationships with the Law Center’s major law firm partners that annually provide over $5 million in pro bono services.
“Knowing the rights of unhoused individuals and working within my power to protect those rights are important to me. I understand that our lives are fragile. Most of us are one termination, one medical bill, or one stroke of a pen away from homelessness; therefore, we should all have empathy for those experiencing homelessness and do what is within our power to advocate for real solutions to end it.”
Carlton came to the Law Center from the Indiana Supreme Court, where he served as a Staff Attorney for access to justice issues. Moreover, Carlton previously served as a Deputy Public Defender for the State of Indiana, and as the Project GRACE Staff Attorney for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, where he was dedicated to resolving civil legal issues of re-entrants and homeless veterans. Additionally, he was recognized as one of Indiana’s top 15 Up-and-Coming Legal Leaders in the Law in 2019. Carlton received his B.A. in Sociology and African and African American Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington and earned his J.D. from Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2012.
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.
Karianna Barr serves as the Director of Development and Communications at the Law Center, supporting the team in work to ensure everyone in the United States has access to safe and secure housing. She is honored to work with the Law Center’s incredible staff and board to elevate our goal as a priority in every community across the country.
“The narrative that people experience homelessness, poverty, or any other crisis because of their own choices is toxic and false and must be shifted. Systems have been intentionally created to force cycles upon many in the United States, and we must use every tool in our arsenal to combat those systems, especially the law.”
Prior to joining the Law Center, Karianna had the privilege of fighting unjust systems by working with national wealth-building organization Prosperity Now, public boarding school system The SEED Foundation, and integrated service provider Inspiration Corporation, and she has over a decade of experience in hospitality. In addition, she supports fundraising efforts through volunteer work as a development Captain at the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, a special events lead at the Smithsonian National Zoo, and a Walk Committee member for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – National Capital Chapter.
Crystal Letona serves as the Communications Associate at the Law Center, where she utilizes storytelling and coalition building to further the message of housing as a human right. She received her B.S. summa cum laude in communication and rhetorical studies, policy studies, and women’s and gender studies from Syracuse University.
“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 gender and critical race studies.
Whittni Holland serves as the Development Associate at the Law Center, where she works to support the Development and Communications team through fundraising and administrative efforts. Recognizing the importance of advocacy in the fight toward social justice for vulnerable and marginalized populations, Whittni is excited and honored to work with the Law Center as they continue to be a champion of transforming the lives of those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
“I firmly believe that what we do for the most vulnerable reflects our values. I value social justice and basic human rights, especially the right to affordable, safe, and adequate housing for all.”
Whittni is a native of Southern Maryland. She earned a B.A. in Psychology from Elon University and a Master of Social Work degree concentrated in Community, Administration, and Policy Practice from Howard University. She is also a Licensed Social Worker in the state of Maryland.
Rajan joins the Law Center’s law and policy team as the primary point person for the Law Center’s national Housing not Handcuffs Campaign, which seeks to combat homelessness through housing-based solutions. Rajan graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in May 2019. During law school, Rajan advocated for underprivileged youth in the DC delinquency system as a student attorney for the Georgetown University Juvenile Justice Clinic. Rajan otherwise focused on various aspects of criminal law and hopes to use his legal training to promote the public interest.
“I was blessed to have grown up without housing or food insecurities, not through my own merits but because I was born under fortunate circumstances. I wish to use my legal training to promote positive outcomes for those who have not enjoyed the same degree of privilege, and for those who have had to combat inequity and unfairness on a daily basis.”
Rajan is originally from Silver Spring, Maryland. Rajan graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with degrees in psychology and criminal justice.
Melissa serves as the Program and Networks Vista and will head the National Forum on the Human Right to Housing. Her goal is to increase the number of communities using the right to housing solutions to end and prevent homelessness, promote understanding among audiences of the harm of policies that criminalize homelessness, and uphold the educational rights of children currently experiencing homelessness.
“Working directly with women experiencing homelessness is where I grew a passion for advocating for those who are often forgotten. This is where I realized there is no face to homelessness, and it can happen to anyone. Every human deserves the right to housing.”
In 2018, Melissa received her master’s in social work with a concentration in social change. Prior to the Law Center, she was working at a women’s shelter in Montgomery County, assisting them in obtaining better housing. Melissa is originally from Maryland but claims Rwanda and Ivory Coast as her home.
Rachel Flores is an Emerson National Hunger Fellow completing her policy placement at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, focusing on integrating racial equity more effectively in the Law Center’s work. Prior to starting at the Law Center, she spent six months in Colorado researching rural SNAP outreach.
Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Rachel graduated from Vanderbilt University in May 2019, where she received a B.S. in Community Leadership and Development and Environmental Sociology. During her time there, she found her passion for social justice through getting involved in the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities, working on issues such as workers’ rights, environmental justice, and housing and 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.