May is when we typically hold an event to honor and appreciate the contributions of our LEAP members to our mission to use the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness in America. This year, the pandemic means that instead of an in-person event, we will be kicking off a series of virtual events to highlight their pro bono work and financial support.
We’ll be paying special tribute to the extraordinary work LEAP members are doing to help us respond to the impact of COVID-19 on people experiencing homelessness, who are especially vulnerable to the peril it poses. Among just a few examples of impactful work they’ve helped us do:
- COVID-19 tracker: We are tracking local-level responses to the impact of the pandemic on homeless people—identifying better practices, such as offering vacant hotel rooms or other housing, as well as harmful responses, such as conducting sweeps in contravention of the CDC guidelines.
- Fighting criminalization: Helping us file an amicus brief in important litigation challenging a city law that punishes people for sleeping outside in Grants Pass, OR—even though there is no emergency housing or shelter there at all.
Many lawyers, firms, and corporate legal departments contribute extremely valuable pro bono support to our work, and we appreciate all of it. Our LEAP members are extra special because they contribute both pro bono and financial support.
Thank you. We literally could not do our work without you!
Founder & Executive Director
California Introduces First-in-the-Nation Amendment to Recognize Housing as a Human Right
A bill introduced in the California state legislature would make that state the first in the country to amend its constitution to recognize the human right to housing. The proposed amendment was spurred by the actions of the Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, who brought new attention to the rallying cry for the human right to housing long shared by homeless and housing-insecure communities across the country and globe.
The bill language was developed through the assistance of the Law Center and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) in collaboration with Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s (D-18) office, who introduced it. The Law Center has been working to develop the legal and policy framework as well as the grassroots movement for the human right to housing since 1996.
Read our full statement here.
Homeless Plaintiffs Seek Emergency Federal Court Order
People living in vehicles in the City of San Diego—many with disabilities that increase the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19—sought an emergency court order preventing the City from criminalizing living in vehicles under the City’s Vehicle Habitation Ordinance, and to stop towing and impoundment of vehicle homes during the COVID-19 outbreak. Represented by the Law Center, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Advocates, and pro bono counsel, including Fish & Richardson LLP, plaintiffs filed a request for a temporary restraining order in federal district court in San Diego on April 30, 2020.
Plaintiffs’ ability to self-isolate depends on keeping their vehicles—the only shelter they have. Yet, the City routinely cites unhoused people and threatens their arrest for vehicle habitation, even during the COVID-19 outbreak; the City has also impounded vehicle homes despite the local shelter-in-place order. Plaintiffs argued that the City’s actions increase their risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, and will further the spread of COVID-19, much like what happened during the City’s Hepatitis A outbreak in 2017.
As a result of plaintiffs’ advocacy leading up to the filing of the motion, the City reduced enforcement, suspended towing and impoundment of certain vehicle homes, re-opened public restrooms and a black water dumping station, and enhanced services at the City’s “safe lots” where people can now park and access hand-washing stations, toilets, and meals during the pandemic. Citing these changes, Judge Battaglia of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California denied the emergency motion on May 14, 2020. While plaintiffs sought additional changes, the city’s steps mark an improvement, and the case continues.
The case, Bloom v. City of San Diego, was filed in 2017 and litigation is ongoing. Read our full statement here.
Protecting the Rights of All Students During the Pandemic
The Law Center is joining with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and other advocates to urge school districts, policymakers, and education leaders to protect the rights of all students during the pandemic.
Ensuring educational equity for all students, regardless of housing status, disability, English language proficiency, race, or socioeconomic status, is always critical. This is especially so now when school closures and other impacts of the pandemic pose additional challenges. In a joint statement led by LDF, we offer examples of promising practices in school districts across the country that ensure equal access in education through distance learning, including bridging the digital divide for students who do not have access to the devices or internet connection needed for remote learning; delivery of school meals while maintaining safety protocols, especially for those who lack means of transportation; instruction for students with disabilities and those experiencing homelessness who may need more assistance accessing educational materials; and actively combatting discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and English proficiency.
We also collaborated with the Education Civil Rights Alliance to call on state and district education leaders to protect the legal rights of poor and marginalized students during the pandemic. ECRA’s statement, which we support, focuses on protecting rights including, state constitutional guarantees of education services, equal education for students with disabilities under the IDEA, protections for students experiencing homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act, and equal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and English language proficiency.
News from the Law Center
LEAP Appreciation Week
Every year since 2005, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has held gatherings of current and potential LEAP members to celebrate our successes and thank our volunteers for all their efforts. Although we cannot gather in person this year, the Law Center is proud to host our first virtual LEAP Appreciation Week this week.
The Law Center could not do what we do without the support of dozens of firms and legal departments, putting in thousands of pro bono hours each year. And at the top of that supporter list is our LEAP members, who commit not just hours, but generous charitable contributions as well.
It is our honor to spend this week thanking each and every LEAP member—and their pro bono coordinators and attorneys—for all that they do to help the Law Center achieve our goal of ending and preventing homelessness.
THANK YOU! To our current LEAP Members: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; Arent Fox LLP; Baker Donelson; Covington & Burling LLP; Dechert LLP; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC; Goodwin Procter LLP; Kirkland & Ellis LLP; McCarter & English LLP; Microsoft; Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; and WilmerHale. And a special shout out and thank you to our LEAP Champions Latham & Watkins LLP and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.
Please join us on social media using #LEAPWeek2020 to thank and applaud these incredible partners!
COVID-19 Webinar Series
The Law Center invites you to join our ongoing webinar series in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upcoming topics include the human right to housing, racial equity, policing and incarceration, and renters’ rights. These webinars serve as a way to share resources and advocacy tools to people across the country so that we can all work together to end and prevent homelessness.
Our webinar page is updated every week with video recordings of past webinars and information on more to come. For recommendations and information on how to take action, visit the Law Center’s COVID-19 Protections for Homeless Population page.
Law Center in the Media
WRAL-TV (5/6/2020) Adult foster care program helps young adults prepare for independence
The Louisiana Weekly (5/4/2020) CDC’s Prescription: Individual housing for people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 and beyond
Al Jazeera Media Network (5/3/2020) Inside the US’s coronavirus convention-centre homeless shelters
Law360 (5/3/2020) For The Homeless, Virus’ Threat Also Brings Hope For Reform
Denver Post (4/30/2020) Denver sweeps homeless camps despite CDC advice to leave them during pandemic
Bangor Daily News (4/30/2020) Housing, not handcuffs, will protect homeless and public health
Fall River Herald News (4/29/2020) Against CDC guidance, some cities sweep homeless encampments
The Times Weekly (4/29/2020) Individual housing for people experiencing homelessness
YubaNet (4/28/2020) Against CDC Guidance, Some Cities Sweep Homeless Encampments
The Pew Charitable Trusts (4/28/2020) Against CDC Guidance, Some Cities Sweep Homeless Encampments
The Atlantic Voice (4/28/2020) CDC’s Prescription: individual housing for people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19
The Dallas Weekly (4/27/2020) CDC’s Prescription: Individual Housing for Homelessness
New York Amsterdam News (4/27/2020) CDC’s Prescription: Individual housing for homeless during COVID-19 and beyond
Street Roots (4/25/2020) Lawsuit: Grants Pass criminalizes homelessness while offering no shelter
The News Tribune (4/24/2020) Puyallup City Council: We’re doing the best we can for homeless during coronavirus
Thomson Reuters Foundation (4/23/2020) Homeless people ‘treated as criminals’ amid coronavirus lockdowns
Bisnow (4/22/2020) Pressure Mounts To ‘Commandeer’ Hotels For Coronavirus
San Francisco Public Press (4/21/2020) Supervisor Pushes for Socially Distanced Homeless Tent Camps
EfficientGov (4/20/2020) Rates of violence against the homeless are worse than you think
Street Sense Media (4/17/2020) A fire displaced 4 people from a homeless encampment last week. Residents believe it was intentional.
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.