February is Black History Month, but racism is a reality every month, and it permeates every aspect of American society. Homelessness and poverty are no exception.
African Americans make up 12.4 percent of the general U.S. population, 23.5% of the total poverty population-and a staggering 42.6 percent of the U.S. homeless population. The disproportionate racial impact of poverty alone does not explain this even greater discrepancy within homelessness.
Discriminatory laws, policies, and attitudes—structural racism—drive the disproportionate representation of African Americans in the poverty population; housing discrimination specifically further exacerbates the impact on homeless Americans.
What’s more, the current trend in cities across the country choosing to criminalize homelessness through laws that penalize sleeping, sitting and simply being in public has its roots in “Jim Crow” laws aimed at policing public space and discouraging the free movement of people of color. Currently, homeless people are 11 times more likely to experience incarceration than the general population.
Youth experiencing homelessness, often already traumatized, face increased risk of juvenile justice system involvement for status offenses like curfew violations and truancy. And studies show that youth of color are usually the ones picked up for these types of nonviolent offenses.
At the Law Center, we fight these injustices every day. Our collaborative Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign challenges the criminalization of homelessness—in court, in legislatures, and in public debate—leading to important victories. Our most recent report, Alone Without A Home, reviews the law in 50 states and offers tools to policymakers to help them support homeless youth towards a better future—not punish and further traumatize them.
As part of a new racial justice initiative launched by Funders Together to End Homelessness in collaboration with SPARC, we are working together to fight racial inequity and discrimination and for equitable solutions to homelessness. And to help us “walk the walk” ourselves, our staff is participating in a 21-day Racial Equity Challenge.
Join us by endorsing the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign, advocating for youth with our new report, taking the challenge—and supporting our work.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Thank you for your support.
Founder & Executive Director
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Report Released: Alone Without a Home
A new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and National Network for Youth discusses the state laws impacting an estimated 700,000 minors in the U.S. experiencing homelessness alone each year. These youth face high risks of assault, dropping out of school, food insecurity, and health problems. But some states are taking steps to ensure that these youth have the legal protections necessary to meet their basic needs—holding the promise of a quicker transition to stable and healthy lives.
“The bottom line is: we can and must do better by these young people,” said Eric Tars, legal director for the Law Center. “And doing better begins with states enacting laws that remove barriers and provide support to these youth.”
Common causes of youth homelessness include severe family conflict, parental abuse or neglect, parental mental health issues, and substance abuse. The report, Alone Without a Home, reviews current laws affecting youth in all 50 states and six U.S. territories, highlights best practices, and recommends policies that prioritize the unique needs of unaccompanied homeless youth. Read more or view the report. The Law Center and NN4Y also hosted a webinar on the day the report was released. View the slides or watch the webinar.
Law Center and Southern Legal Counsel Sue Florida Law Enforcement
The Law Center and Southern Legal Counsel sued St. Johns County Sheriff David B. Shoar and Florida Highway Patrol Director Gene Spaulding on behalf of Peter Vigue, a St. Augustine resident who has been arrested by both law defendants for standing on the public right of way while holding a sign soliciting donations.
The suit, filed on February 12, 2019, challenges the constitutionality of Florida statutes that prohibit individuals from soliciting charitable contributions on public streets and sidewalks without a local government permit but exempt charitable organizations from the permit requirements and other restrictions. Both of the law enforcement agencies named in the complaint have made a practice of enforcing the statutes against homeless individuals.
Polar Vortex Threatens Homeless People
In late January, temperatures dropped well below freezing (in many cases below zero) across much of the midwestern and northeastern United States. A brutally cold air mass descended from the arctic causing what is known as a polar vortex. According to a 2010 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, at least 700 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness die each year from hypothermia. As of the beginning of this month, at least 21 deaths have been attributed to the brutal cold brought on by the polar vortex, including one woman found who had been seeking refuge in an abandoned Ohio home.
Communities came together to aid their most vulnerable during the freeze, including Candice Payne, whose viral social media post helped her rent 59 hotel rooms for homeless individuals in Chicago. While Payne’s story is inspiring, extreme weather events like the polar vortex are a striking reminder of why the Law Center advocates for housing as a human right. We believe no man, woman, or child should be without a safe place to call home. You can read our report card on the right to housing in the United States as well as our policy recommendations here.
NY Law Ends Gender Discrimination in Housing
On Friday, January 25, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). The bill adds gender identity as a protected class in the areas of housing employment and public accommodations and is one of several crucial new victories for the state’s LGBTQ community including a ban on conversion therapy. State Senator Brad Hoylman tweeted about the importance of GENDA, noting how 23% of transgender or gender-nonconforming Americans faced housing discrimination based on their identity.
Advocates for GENDA relied on the Law Center’s State Index on Youth Homelessness to push for broader non-discrimination protections. The index, developed in partnership with the True Colors Fund, provides advocates and youth themselves with a tool recommending concrete steps that states can take to protect the safety, development, health, and dignity of youth experiencing homelessness, thereby helping end the cycle of homelessness and increasing youth’s prospects for a brighter future. In New York, the index had called for the state to work to develop safer, more inclusive environments for youth experiencing homelessness through actions such as requiring training specific to the needs of LGBTQ youth.
“Vigilantism” Threatens the Safety of Homeless People
Currently, the Law Center, along with the Western Regional Advocacy Project and the National Coalition for the Homeless, is working to combat the issue of vigilantism directed toward people experiencing homelessness. Vigilantism in this respect is defined as tracking, surveilling, cataloging, and harassing houseless people, and ultimately colluding with police. Our goal is to prevent further incidents of vigilantism such as the ones that have occurred in L.A. County, Humboldt County, and Portland, by using the law to establish people battling homelessness to become a protected class.
Through reported complaints by homeless persons in these communities and through our own research, we discovered that vigilantism has led to the destruction of homeless persons’ property, physical threats, and invasion of privacy and disclosure of personal information through use of drones, other technology, and social media. In an attempt to increase this issue’s visibility, we have collectively submitted formal complaints and a public records request to both Portland and L.A. These events garnered media attention. Articles published in The Weekly Valley Vantage highlight the violent attacks on these individuals. We plan to continue our efforts to combat vigilantism so that we can protect people experiencing homelessness.
Save the date for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s annual National Forum on the Human Right to Housing! People who are currently or formerly homeless, attorneys, government officials, and advocates from across the country will gather in Washington, D.C., to organize and strategize on ways we can work to end the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness. Registration information coming soon.
Become a sponsor of the National Forum and help students, individuals with limited income, and currently and formerly homeless people attend this important event. For more information about law firm and corporate sponsorship opportunities, contact Acting Development & Communications Director Cassidy Waskowicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Limited travel scholarships are available for low-income and homeless persons. To apply, contact Networks and Events VISTA Rachel Lee at email@example.com with the subject line ‘Forum Scholarship Request.’ In your e-mail, please state your need, where you will be traveling from, and describe your involvement in advocacy on behalf of homeless individuals.
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.