This month’s election ushers in important new opportunities for progress in our fight to end homelessness in America. We won’t know the full extent until the two Senate run-offs early next year are decided. And we know making good on the opportunities will take continued vigorous advocacy—but they are there and we are ready.
The Biden campaign’s housing plan starts with affirming what we have long called for: “Housing should be a right, not a privilege.” It specifically calls out the disproportionate racial impact of housing market failures. And it proposes ambitious, detailed plans for reform.
Included in this plan is a call for a national strategy to end homelessness, starting with developing a strategy to make housing a right for all within the first 100 days of his Administration.
Other key points:
- A call to enact Chairwoman Waters’ Ending Homelessness Act, which calls for $13 billion in new funding, including $5 billion for McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance grants.
- Affirmation of the Housing First approach, rejecting the harsh and ineffective backtracking proposed by Robert Marbut’s new plan.
- Calls for attention to the rights and needs of LGBTQ people, Veterans, people with disabilities and elderly people, people exiting incarceration, and domestic violence survivors.
Notably missing from this plan is a specific call to end the criminalization of homelessness in favor of housing, although Biden’s criminal justice reform plan calls for connecting homeless people to services not deploying police to incarcerate people. The housing and homelessness plan should connect the dots, and support Rep. Jayapal’s Housing is a Human Right Act, which specifically calls for rejecting criminalization of homelessness in favor of housing and services.
Also needed is a specific plan to address the needs of homeless children and youth, including critically important access to education, as mandated by federal law under the McKinney-Vento Act.
And despite a robust plan to address Covid-19 and its impact, missing from the plan is a call for strengthening current CDC guidelines that urge placement of unsheltered persons in individual housing units and against “sweeps” of encampments in the absence of such units, and urge against congregate shelter placements. In addition, the eviction moratorium must be reinstated and coupled with rent relief, including support for smaller landlords.
Similarly, vacant properties must be marshalled to house people, and should vigorously enforce and build on an existing federal law, Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act, that applies to vacant federal property, and expand this model to other vacant properties.
A few other notable positives in the Biden plan:
These are important proposals for real change. It will take all of us, advocating vigorously, to make these and additional proposals, a reality. Please support us going forward! Thank you for all you do.
Founder & Executive Director
U.S. Housing and Homelessness Record Under Review
On November 9, the U.S. underwent its 3rd Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council, receiving critiques and recommendations on its record with regard to the right to housing, criminalization of homelessness and poverty, racial discrimination, and many other human rights issues. The Review takes place every 5 years, for every country in the world.
The Law Center–in partnership with the University of Miami Law School Human Rights Clinic–submitted a stakeholder report to the U.N. in 2019 in preparation for the review. The review was supposed to take place in March, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Law Center’s report was cited in the official UN summary of stakeholder information, and the UN’s compilation of UN commentary also highlighted the criminalization of homelessness, as raised in a prior visit of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights. The U.S. also submitted its report, which glossed over the critiques from the previous review, which also highlighted the need to eliminate criminalization of homelessness.
The Review was webcast and the final outcome report will be available shortly here. The U.S. will have to respond to each recommendation, either accepting or rejecting the recommendations, and the Law Center will advocate for the government to accept recommendations regarding housing, homelessness, and poverty–and follows through on them.
Updates to the Homeless Education Advocacy Manual: Disaster Edition
The National Homelessness Law Center’s Homeless Education Advocacy Manual: Disaster Edition was first issued in response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and updated in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy and in 2017 after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate; it has now been updated to include information about education and the 2020 pandemic. The manual provides further information and resources on how children and youth displaced by natural disasters can remain in school.
Children and youth experiencing homelessness, including due to natural and manmade disasters, have the right to attend school under the Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“McKinney-Vento”), which is the main focus of this manual. Additions about COVID-19 include guidance on distance learning, social distancing and personal protective gear, and maintaining access to equal education for unstably housed students during this time of unexpected unemployment and evictions.
Court challenges to criminalization
In a settlement announced last week, the city of Montgomery has agreed to immediately stop arresting or ticketing people who panhandle in resolution of a lawsuit filed in February by the National Homelessness Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and ACLU of Alabama. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three unhoused people who panhandle, challenged enforcement of two Alabama state statutes that make it unlawful for anyone to “beg” or “solicit” as violative of free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As part of the settlement, in addition to stopping enforcement, the city has agreed to drop all outstanding charges against people for panhandling, waive any outstanding fines and costs owed, and to donate $10,000 to Montgomery Pride United (MPU), which will use the funds to provide emergency financial assistance to people experiencing homelessness.
Panhandling laws, including Alabama’s law criminalizing begging, have their origins in vagrancy laws that were designed to criminalize African Americans after the Civil War. The discriminatory impact of such laws continues today, with people of color disproportionately harmed by laws that target individuals who panhandle because of a lack of stable housing or access to resources.
“Punishing people who ask for help is not only illegal and inhumane, it is also a waste of limited public resources that would be far better invested in housing and supportive services to people in need,” said Tristia Bauman, senior attorney at the National Homelessness Law Center and co-counsel in the case. “In the midst of a national homelessness crisis, governments should be investing in proven solutions to homelessness – not wasting time and money on punitive approaches that only worsen the problem.”
The lawsuit also named the Montgomery County Sheriff and the state of Alabama for enforcement of the same statutes. That litigation is still pending.
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Join the National Homelessness Law Center in honoring leaders in the fight to end and prevent homelessness. The 22nd Annual McKinney-Vento Awards will be held virtually Wednesday, December 9, 2020, at 7:00 EST and hosted by comedian and actress Kerry Coddett.
We are pleased to announce this year’s awardees!
Stewart B. McKinney Award
Bruce Rosenblum is a Managing Director at Carlyle and serves as the firm’s Chief Risk Officer. Prior to this position, Bruce was an investment professional in the U.S. Buyout group and
was a Partner and Executive Committee member at Latham & Watkins. We are honoring Bruce for his commitment to the Law Center as a long-time board member, supporter, and advisor. His contributions have enabled the Law Center to fight for housing as a human right and an end to homelessness in the United States.
Bruce F. Vento Award
Rep. Pramila Jayapal was elected to Congress in 2016 and represents Washington’s 7th District. In Congress, Representative Jayapal has worked to address income inequality and introduced the Housing is a Human Right Act (H.R. 6308) earlier this year. We are honoring Rep. Jayapal for her dedication to ensuring housing for all and protecting the rights of every American.
Pro Bono Counsel Award
Fish & Richardson is one of the world’s premier intellectual property and litigation firms. Fish works with clients to protect and enforce intellectual property rights globally, providing portfolio strategy and representation in multinational litigation. We are honoring Fish for their work in advancing solutions to homelessness and poverty, particularly their pro bono work on the Bloom v. San Diego case, and for serving as our “SWAT” team.
Personal Achievement Award
To be announced
This year’s event is free to register, and sponsorship opportunities are available!
Law Center Welcomes New Board Member
Our team is expanding, and we could not be happier to introduce our incredible new board member:
Jacqueline O’Garrow served as the Senior Vice President and Director of National Alliances & Initiatives at Bank of America and she is currently an executive committee chair at The Housing Partnership.
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.