One of the many myths about homelessness is that it primarily affects men. This is simply not true, and March—when we celebrate Women’s History Month—is a good time to set the record straight.
The reality is that women are especially vulnerable to homelessness—regardless of how it’s defined. The majority of homeless families are headed by women, and women account for the vast majority of those who become homeless as a result of domestic violence. And as Matthew Desmond showed in his award winning book Evicted, women—and in particular women of color—are the ones most targeted by unscrupulous landlords and unfair laws and policies that force them from their homes.
Among the most malicious are “nuisance” laws that impose penalties on landlords based on the number of 911 calls from a property—regardless of the reason for the call for help. Those victimized by domestic violence—most often women—face eviction and potential homelessness—simply for calling for help.
Once homeless, women face rape, assault and other violence, including the prospect of trading sex for shelter, as one recent report documented. Meeting basic hygiene needs—a challenge for all homeless people—is an especially acute problem for women, who face an often complete lack of “feminine products” as well as bathrooms to accommodate menstrual cycles.
Since 2005, the Violence Against Women Act has included important housing rights for domestic violence survivors, thanks to pioneering work by the Law Center and our allies. These rights were greatly expanded in 2013, again thanks to our collective advocacy; they now protect not only public and subsidized housing but also private housing developed with the low-income housing tax credit.
A bi-partisan bill to reauthorize and strengthen this critical law was just introduced in the House, but has yet to be introduced in the Senate. You can help by calling your Representatives and asking them to support it and calling your Senators and asking them to introduce companion legislation.
Homelessness is a women’s issue—and an issue for all of us. Please join me in supporting our advocacy for women.
Thank you for your support.
Founder & Executive Director
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Settlement in Denver Homeless Class Action Lawsuit
After nearly three years in litigation, a settlement has been reached between the City of Denver, Colorado, and homeless plaintiffs who charged the city with violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The lawsuit had condemned “homeless sweeps” carried out by the city as part of enforcing its municipal ban on camping. During sweeps people experiencing homelessness reported that their property was unlawfully seized and destroyed without notice.
According to the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, the settlement “creates policy to defend basic property rights of people living without housing. It gives every homeless person the right to have their property in public space without being subject to seizure by the city without due process and adequate notice.” In addition to requiring cities to seek input from people experiencing homelessness before making changes to the new policy, the settlement also makes more resources available to the city’s homeless population including lockers, trash cans, and porta-potties.
The Denver settlement comes amidst a national trend of both increasing homeless encampments and policies that criminalize homelessness. In our 2017 report “Tent City, USA,” the Law Center found that there had been an over 1000% increase in homeless encampments since 2007. Among the 187 cities surveyed as part of the report, only 11% had ordinances or formal policies that required notice before a city could conduct an encampment sweep. By joining these cities, Denver is taking an important step forward in protecting the rights of people experiencing homelessness.
The settlement adheres to many of the Law Center’s guiding principles when addressing encampments, namely that storage for personal belongings be made available and clear procedures are established and enforced. We hope cities across the country will take similar steps to protect the rights of people experiencing homelessness while also ensuring that adequate and affordable housing is available to all.
Committee on Financial Services Testimony
On February 13, the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services held the full committee hearing: Homeless in America: Examining the Crisis and Solutions to End Homelessness. Chairwoman Maxine Waters said in her opening statement that it was the committee’s first time holding a hearing on this topic. She acknowledged the importance of creating proactive solutions to homelessness.
The Law Center submitted written testimony for the committee, highlighting important issues that should be focused on by the committee as they work towards drafting legislation. The testimony noted that any legislation addressing the crisis of homelessness in America should take a housing first approach and work to decriminalize life-sustaining actions of those experiencing homelessness. The Law Center presented best practices for the committee moving forward and hopes to work closely with committee members as they continue to draft legislation.
Just Cause Evictions in Oregon
In late February, Oregon passed a proposal to ban most no-cause evictions while giving cities the freedom to adopt their own rent-control policies. People living month-to-month are too often seeing their rents suddenly spike or leases abruptly terminated —forcing them back into a costly rental market. The legislation largely eliminated no-cause evictions, except during the first year of tenancy. In that first year, landlords have to give 30 days’ written notice for eviction. If a landlord ends the rental agreement, it is required to outline the “qualifying reason” in the termination notice and give “supporting facts” justifying the termination. The landlord has to pay one month’s rent when evicting the individual. Overall, this law is the step in the right direction toward eliminating unfair evictions.
New LAHSA on Procedures and Practices Takes Law Center Recommendations
On February 28, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) adopted new policy that calls for decriminalizing life-sustaining actions of the more than 40,000 Los Angelenos who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness.
The policy, entitled Guiding Principles and Practices for Local Responses to Unsheltered Homelessness, outlines principles that affirm the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness. This guidance cites the Encampment Principles and Practices outlined in the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s 2017 Tent City, USA: The Growth of America’s Homeless Encampments and How Communities are Responding report, and calls for fair policies that prioritize the provision of housing and services and discourages the use of the criminal justice system in addressing homelessness. The document shows the commitment of the county to serve those experiencing unsheltered homelessness with respect, dignity, and empathy.
The Law Center commends LA Community Action Network, Legal Aid Fund of LA, Neighborhood Legal Services of LA, and Carol Sobel, whose work was instrumental in this victory.
Read more here.
On Tuesday, March 19th, NLC Volunteer Attorney Marta Beresin presented (along with Amy Louttit of National Network for Youth) at the NN4Y 2-day National Summit on Youth Homelessness. The session was entitled “World Café Style: Cross-Sector Issues Impacting Youth Homelessness,” and the focus was on NLC’s new report, produced jointly with the National Network for Youth, called Alone Without A Home. Alone Without a Home provides a state-by-state review of laws in 13 key issue areas that affect the lives of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, including status offenses, health care access, access to public benefits, and discharge from the juvenile justice system. The report includes detailed indexes where advocates can find the relevant laws in their state or jurisdiction. Importantly, the report also provides recommendations for policy changes in each of the 13 issue areas. Marta spoke to 30-35 people, including school homeless liaisons from around the country, Department of Social Services employees, shelter providers, and others. Attendees were excited about Alone Without a Home and its potential to both assist them in providing direct services to youth and in advocating for systemic changes that will strengthen the supports available to unaccompanied youth in their states.
Executive Director Maria Foscarinis will be speaking at the Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium which will take place on March 28 and 29 in Baltimore, Maryland. The conference will explore the intersection of law and public attitudes about disability. Maria will discuss the intersections of homelessness and disabilities. Learn more here.
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.