Earlier this month, the Law Center and our partners won another big victory in our fight against the criminalization of homelessness. The federal court of appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an effort to review our earlier outcome in Martin v. Boise, meaning that our landmark victory stands.
This victory has the potential to transform local government responses to visible homelessness in cities across the country—if we mobilize to capitalize on it.
The court ruling tells cities in the nine states it covers what they can’t do—punish homeless people for sleeping in public when they have no other alternative. It’s up to policymakers to decide what to do instead. As advocates, we must push them to choose housing, not handcuffs.
This is a tremendous opportunity for progress, and it comes at a critical time. Just last month a new poll showed that 91% of people in the U.S. say affordable housing is very important or one of the most important things that affect their security and well-being.
Policymakers are taking notice. Currently, three major housing bills are pending in the Senate, and multiple major presidential candidate has stated publically that housing is a human right, something we and other advocates have been advocating for years.
This is the time to mobilize at all levels of government—federal, state and local—to push policymakers to embrace this basic principle: everyone needs and deserves a place to call home. And to push policies to make that principle a reality. Learn more and endorse the Campaign at HousingNotHandcuffs.org.
Founder & Executive Director
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Ending Homelessness Act Continues Forward
On March 28, the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services voted 32-26 to discharge H.R.1856, the Ending Homelessness Act of 2019, from the Committee, making it eligible to be considered by the entire House of Representatives. This bill, championed and sponsored by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43), would provide $13 billion in federal funding over the span of five years in order to combat the homelessness crisis in the United States.
The passage of the bill through committee took place six weeks after the Committee on Financial Services hosted a hearing entitled: Homeless in America: Examining the Crisis and Solutions to End Homelessness. The Law Center submitted testimony for the Committee’s hearing, highlighting important issues areas. Moving forward, the Law Center will continue working with lawmakers to advocate for the passage of the Ending Homelessness Act.
Violence Against Women Act Amendments
New amendments to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were passed in the House on April 4, including key housing protections for victims of domestic violence that help ensure victims are not left homeless because of the actions of their abusers.
In partnership with the National Task Force to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, the Law Center helped to draft amendments to the housing protections already in place under the previous version of VAWA. Among other new protections, these amendments prohibit denial of housing to a victim based on her abuser’s criminal activities. If an abuser was the sole member of the household eligible for housing assistance programs, these amendments give victims a chance to retain that housing even after the abuser leaves. Victims are also protected from retaliation, such as eviction, when they frequently call on emergency services because of domestic violence.
The amendments also create a VAWA Director at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to aid in implementing these protections and to coordinate with other federal agencies and HUD regional agencies to further the goals of these protections.
The Law Center will take an active role in helping to usher the bill through the Senate. Read the full text of the bill here.
“Housing Not Handcuffs” #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign Expansion
This month we began the second round of our #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign. The landmark Norton v. Springfield case in 2015 set a precedent that deemed most anti-panhandling laws unconstitutional. In response, we initiated the #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign. The goal of this campaign was to urge cities to repeal these unconstitutional anti-panhandling laws without the need for litigation—and to push them to adopt more constructive approaches instead. We sent letters to cities across the country informing them that these anti-panhandling laws were unconstitutional and asking them to repeal their ordinances.
We saw success, with 70 cities (and counting) repealing, reviewing, or readdressing their panhandling laws without the need for litigation. Cities like Syracuse, NY, have taken further steps to not only not criminalize panhandling, but address the underlying poverty that causes people need to ask for help, through funding a day labor program targeted to those experiencing homelessness.
This year, in the second round of our #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign, the Law Center will expand our efforts and success into all 50 states. In just the first few days since the launch we have gotten responses from more than a dozen organizations in various states interested in joining this round of the campaign. To find out more information about joining the campaign or the success of the initial campaign contact Pierre Collins.
Law Center Intern Profiles
The Law Center’s most recent class of interns is coming up on the end of their time with us, but the impact of their work will continue to move us all forward. In recognition of the invaluable assistance they have provided, we’ve devoted a portion of this newsletter to profiles of their history and accomplishments:
Patrick Geiger is a Master’s student studying geography at the George Washington University. For his thesis, Patrick is researching homeless encampments in Washington, D.C. and the impacts that encampment “cleanups” have on people experiencing homelessness. He joined the Law Center because he is passionate about housing as a human right and ending the criminalization of homelessness. He is currently working on mapping the increase in policies that criminalize homelessness across the country.
Scott Pease is a current junior at Pomona College majoring in public policy analysis and French. Scott is spending a semester in Washington, D.C., interning full-time for the Law Center while taking classes at night. He discovered his passion for the issues of homelessness and poverty while serving on his local school board in Everett, Washington. He saw firsthand the experiences of students experiencing homelessness and the impacts of the McKinney-Vento Act. Ever since, Scott is pursuing an academic and professional career advocating for civil and human rights in public policy. Scott has worked in a variety of policy positions, including with the Government Affairs team at the Human Rights Campaign. He is currently writing his thesis on the effectiveness of the public policy surrounding LGBTQ youth homelessness.
Morgan Wilderman is a first-year Master of Public Policy candidate considering concentrating in regulatory policy. She is originally from Westbrook, Connecticut and graduated from College of the Holy Cross in 2018 with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Human Rights and in Latin America and Latino Studies. In the past, she has interned for the National Coalition for the Homeless, Career Resources Inc., The Connecticut Attorney General’s Office and the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. With her degree, Morgan plans to pursue a career advocating for low-income families and children.
Law Center in the Media
SmartCitiesDive (4/8/19) Federal court: Cities cannot criminalize homelessness
Sacramento Bee (4/7/19) Citations soar for homeless on American River Parkway after ruling halts bans on camping
AM Law Litigation Daily (4/3/19) Daily Dicta: Bitterly Divided Ninth Circuit Judges Snipe at Each Other Over Homelessness Decision
My Northwest (4/3/19) Court rules again: Homeless can still legally sleep in public
Seattle Times (4/3/19) Court pours cold dose of reality on Seattle’s hot homelessness debate
Meridian Star (4/3/19) VIRGINIA DAWKINS: Aslane’s Hope provides a safe place for mothers and children
Westword (4/2/19) Confusion Over Right to Survive Initiative Isn’t Easily Put to Rest
Huffington Post (4/1/19) Cities Can’t Punish Homeless People For Sleeping On Street, Court Affirms
Modesto Bee (4/1/19) Ruling protecting homeless who sleep in parks when they don’t have options remains
Idaho News (4/1/19) 9th Circuit Court denies Boise’s request in homeless camping lawsuit
Hellas Journal (3/30/19) Over 30 years attorney Maria Foscarinis is fighting for the rights of the homeless in America
Cleveland.com (3/29/19) ACLU sues Summit County, Bath Township on behalf of panhandler
NY CaribNews (3/27/19) Chairwoman Waters Introduces Bill to End Homelessness
Black Press USA (3/26/19) Chairwoman Waters Introduces Bill to End Homelessness in America
Tillamook Headlight Herald (3/22/19) Trying to See: Homelessness, our curable epidemic
San Diego Union Tribune (3/21/19) Homeless, but a million-dollar view
Charleston City Paper (3/20/19) Charleston’s Homeless Court helped 13 people find housing in one year, but is it the answer?
Changing Laws. Changing Lives.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.