The Law Center will periodically feature our close partnerships with other organizations and advocates in In Just Times.
This month, we are featuring Mark Horvath, who founded Invisible People in 2008 after experiencing several periods of homelessness.
Through one-on-one interviews, Mark shows the broader public what day-to-day life is actually like without a home. He seeks to portray that the reality of homelessness is much more complex than most assume. Homelessness is not only sleeping on a street corner; it is multiple families sharing one home, people living out of their cars, and families struggling to survive in hotel rooms. The interviews produced by Invisible People give persons experiencing homelessness the opportunity to tell their own story.
Please listen to Mark share his thoughts on narrative building around homelessness from last year’s webinar and check out more videos and interviews from Invisible People here. Follow Mark Horvath and Invisible People on social media to hear more of their stories.
The Staff of the National Homelessness Law Center
Pro Bono Appreciation
As the Law Center looks back on our 2020 pro bono activities, we want to give thanks to all the people who made themselves available to serve. We know we say this a lot, because it is true: We could not meet the call of our mission to end homelessness and protect the rights of those experiencing it without our pro bono partners. We appreciate you!
We appreciate all of our LEAP members and the countless firms that have made our work possible over the years. We want to thank especially our partners at Latham & Watkins for the high-impact litigation work you handled in 2020 on behalf of the Law Center and our clients. We appreciate the lawyers at Akin Gump who helped aid and shape our policy work. We appreciate every person at Baker Donelson who helped us research and draft our 2020 State Youth Index. We appreciate our partners at Goodwin who worked on several pro bono projects, including 50 State Voting Rights Cards that instructed homeless voters about how to vote by mail. We appreciate our partners at Dechert who helped us fight criminalization of people experiencing homelessness in Texas. And we thank our most recent McKinney-Vento Pro Bono Counsel Award recipient, Fish & Richardson, who took lead on our COVID Letter writing campaign that helped us challenge budding policies and practices that were detrimental to people who were experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
Even though we are only halfway through the year, our records show that your dedication towards serving our mission has continued. Let’s make this year better than the last. We have a greater impact when we work together.
Connecticut Senate Passes First Statewide Recognition of the Human Right to Housing
On May 20, following a strong op-ed from the Law Center, the Connecticut Senate passed SB 194, recognizing the human right to housing in the state of Connecticut. This bill builds upon a collaboration between the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and the Law Center, and was introduced through the leadership of Connecticut State Senator Saud Anwar and Representative Brian McGee.
Tracking language drawn from international human rights standards, the bill states it is the goal of the state to implement policies that will respect, protect, and fulfill a right to affordable, decent, safe, and stable housing for every resident of the state.
SB 194 establishes an inclusive right to housing committee to review the state’s implementation of the right to housing and to report to the General Assembly Housing Committee by July 1, 2022. The bill also establishes an important moral and legal commitment to the right to housing, setting the stage for other bills that would help to actually implement the right.
The bill has been added to the calendar for the Connecticut House. With a favorable committee report, advocates are hopeful that it will see quick passage and then be signed by the Governor, making Connecticut the first state to officially recognize housing as a right! This bill is important for all Connecticut residents, but in particular the Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color who make up the state’s poorest residents. The Law Center will be tracking progress closely.
Criminalizing Homelessness In Texas
Despite opposition from the Law Center and local partners, the people of Austin, Texas passed Prop B—reinstating full camping, sitting, lying, and panhandling bans that had been partially rescinded—and the Texas legislature passed HB 1925prohibiting camping statewide.
The state law explicitly prohibits localities from taking steps to discourage enforcement of the law, empowering the Texas attorney general to bring cases against such municipalities, under penalty of loss of all state aid for the year following a judicial finding of non-compliance.
Both legislative efforts were prompted by opposition to the city of Austin’s partial repeal of its own camping ban in 2019, which critics—including Texas Governor Abbott—incorrectly blamed for the growth of the city’s homeless encampments, rather than Austin’s skyrocketing rental costs and lack of affordable housing.
Because homelessness has a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, the law will likely further entrench racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
The Law Center is working with local partners to evaluate potential policy or legal responses.
Iowa Passes Law Permitting Source of Income Discrimination
On April 30, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill permitting landlords to discriminate against tenants who receive federal rental assistance, overriding local protections against such discrimination which had been passed in three Iowa cities. Because federal rental assistance is used disproportionately by Black, Indigenous and other Renters of Color, discrimination on source of income is often used as a legal proxy for illegal racial discrimination. Statewide bans on protections for rental assistance recipients are of particular concern as national efforts to create universal rental voucher programs are under way to achieve President Biden’s commitment to a right to housing. The Law Center is working with national partners and the Administration to evaluate policy and legal responses.
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Recent Events Featuring Law Center Staff
Senior Attorney, Tristia Bauman, presented at this year’s Equal Justice Conference hosted by the American Bar Association and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. The session, entitled, “Illegal to Be Homeless: How the Law Creates and Punishes Homelessness” focused on increased criminalization of unhoused people for acts of survival in public space and litigation strategies for combatting those punitive policies. Tristia was joined by co-presenters, Ed Johnson and Walter Fonseca of the Oregon Law Center.
Tristia also presented on criminalization of homelessness policies for the American Constitution Society Rutgers-Newark Chapter presentation series on Housing as a Human Right. Tristia was part of a panel that included Leilani Farha, Global Director of The Shift and former UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, and Joshua Bauers of the Fair Share Housing Center. The panel was moderated by Professor Norrinda Hayat, Rutgers Director of the Civil Justice Clinic.
On Friday, April 30, 2021 the Rutgers AEI Executive Council hosted a panel on housing and homelessness featuring Barbara Poppe, Robert Robinson, Jorge Soto, and Law Center Legal Director Eric Tars. The panel covered a variety of topics including a discussion of the definition of homelessness, housing discrimination, housing as a human right, the right to counsel, and much more. You can view a recording of the webinar here.
On Thursday, April 22, 2021 Pro Bono Manager Carlton Martin joined an international panel of leading pro bono practitioners for a webinar hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in which they shared the findings of their 2020 TrustLaw Index of Pro Bono, a global benchmark survey for trends in the pro bono legal sector. Carlton contributed to a discussion on the role pro bono has played during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other crises that have arisen.
Law Center in the Media
For updates on the Law Center in the News, see 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.