Pro Bono at the Law Center

Why Pro Bono is Important at the Law Center

The National Homelessness Law Center was founded to be the hub of the national legal movement to end homelessness, combining and coordinating the strength of the public and private bar. Pro bono is an integral part of the Law Center’s mission to end homelessness in America. In fact, we could not accomplish this mission without the consistent and diligent assistance of our Pro Bono Partners. Though the Law Center’s staff is small, the mission is National in scale; therefore, we need our Pro Bono Partners to multiply our efforts throughout the country. Many times, they are our hands and feet on the ground, they are our voices in federal courtrooms, our advocates on Capitol Hill and hundreds of state and local policy centers around the U.S., and so much more!

Racial Equity Mission

The National Homelessness Law Center (“the Law Center”) recognizes structural racism as a root cause of homelessness. Over half of homeless population in the United States are persons of color—nearly 40% of those persons are Black or African American. We understand our Nation’s long struggle with racism in all forms, as well as the direct, and collateral consequences resulting from structural racism. Racism’s reach has touched every institution and all areas of activity in our society. Homelessness is not exempt; therefore, we believe that ending homelessness cannot happen without addressing racial inequity.

The Law Center challenges our Pro Bono Partners to join us in our fight to create systemic change and racial equity in the law and in our society. We want our partners to join us in building a more inclusive world based on equal opportunity, advancing racial equity, and addressing the damage caused by systemic racism. As part of this effort, we hope you will commit to meaningful action through dedication of pro bono resources to our initiatives that address systemic racism, and that you will commit to pursuing inclusivity, equality, and empowerment for underrepresented and marginalized community groups both internally and externally.

The Law Center is dedicated to using the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness and to protect the rights of all people experiencing homelessness. Joining HALT (Homeless Action Legal Team) affirms your support of our mission and willingness to devote pro bono resources within your power to address racial inequity. We can do this together! Join us.

Pro Bono by the Numbers

2021

Number of hours Worked on Pro Bono Projects

6,952

Value of Donated Hours from Pro Bono Volunteers

$4,345,086

Number of Pro Bono Firms/ Corporate Offices

23

2020

Number of hours Worked on Pro Bono Projects

9,270 

Value of Donated Hours from Pro Bono Volunteers

$6,407,708

Number of Pro Bono Firms/ Corporate Offices

17

Pro Bono Victories by Month

March 2022

Thank you to Latham and Watkins for Helping Get the “Good Cause Exception” Passed in Washington State!

SB 5729 in Washington passed unanimously in both houses and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature! SB 5729 allows a good cause exception for late public benefit hearing requests due to housing instability. This exception ensures that people experiencing homelessness will not lose their chance to appeal terminations of cash and other assistance. Link to the bill is here: 5729-S.PL.pdf (wa.gov).

Big thanks to Clint Summers and Topher Turner from Latham Watkins who provided technical assistance to the Law Center in advising local advocates on the interplay of federal and state law regarding public benefits and in drafting a model good cause bill that other states can use; which builds on the success in Washington state.

Previous Months

Lawyers From McCarter & English Helps Protect Post-Disaster Rights

 In 2018, following numerous hurricanes, the Law Center received disturbing reports of people who were homeless before the storms being discriminated against in seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shelter, housing, and other supports offered to the newly homeless victims of the storms.

The Law Center and National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) engaged the pro bono assistance of McCarter & English to help pursue a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for FEMA policies and procedures related to determining eligibility for post-disaster resources.

Through now many years of emails, meetings, and internal appeals, the McCarter & English team including Franklin Turner (a Law Center Board Member), Ethan Brown, Kevin Conoscenti, Alexander Major, and Thomas Terebesi followed up on the requests, ultimately resulting in a final disclosure earlier this month with far more information than initially shared by the agency. Not all requested information was disclosed, and the team is currently evaluating next steps, but the information that was gained has been instrumental in larger efforts to get Congress to consider the  Reforming Disaster Recovery Act that would create a permanently authorized disaster fund to replace the ad hoc approach taken with previous disasters, and ensure non-discrimination in the distribution of those resources. In fact, on January 19, informed by FEMA’s disclosures, NLIHC President Diane Yentel gave testimony before the subcommittee on the House Financial Services Committee urging Congress to pass the Act.

The Law Center and NLIHC are deeply grateful to the attorneys at McCarter & English who are helping ensure more fair and equitable treatment of victims of future disasters.

Thank you to Dechert LLP, Kirkland Ellis LLP, and Sullivan Cromwell LLP for Your Work on the Housing Not Handcuffs 2021 State Law Supplement! 

We are excited to share our newest report on the criminalization of homelessness: Housing Not Handcuffs 2021 – State Law Supplement. While the Law Center has tracked close to 200 cities for their laws criminalizing homelessness, finding dramatic increases over the past decade, we previously had not tracked statewide laws that perform the same function.

This supplement to our last Housing Not Handcuffs 2019 report fills in that gap, finding that 48 out of 50 states & DC have some form of law criminalizing homelessness at the state level. Attorneys at Dechert, Kirkland, and Sullivan helped us collect critical data to complete this project. We appreciate your work for the Center.

To hear more about the experience of people with criminalization, the findings of the report, concerning trends, and exciting efforts to repeal state laws please join us today at 2:00 pm eastern standard time. Our confirmed speakers include Delaware State Rep. Eric Morrison, Oregon State Rep. Winsvey Campos, Pro Bono Counsel Joe Abraham, and our former Housing Not Handcuffs Coordinator Rajan Bal. The registration link for the webinar is here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_OQWAMtwtSHGGrTpsVti1bQ

Thank you to Perkins Coie LLP For Providing Valuable Legal Clarity About Preferential Treatment in Housing Programming on the Basis of Race

Homelessness has a deeply disparate racial impact, especially on Black communities across the country. This impact stems from several factors, though a primary factor is historical anti-black discrimination in housing.

The Law Center is working with housing organizations in Los Angeles who aim to remedy anti-black housing discrimination by developing racially-explicit outreach and resource strategies to house black citizens of LA. However, many local organizations were concerned that racially targeted outreach would violate federal, state, and local civil rights and non-discrimination laws.

This is where Perkins Coie comes in! Their team researched local, state, and federal laws to resolve this question; specifically, The Civil Rights Act of 1866, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Unruh Civil Rights Act, Los Angeles County Ordinances, and Measure J. Thanks to the Perkins Team’s work, advocates on the ground can develop firmer strategies to address racial discrimination in housing without running afoul of the law.

Big thank you to Danielle Sivalingam and Doris Alvarez-Reyes for all your work and time. We appreciate it.

Thank you to Pro Bono Counsel Award Winner Sullivan & Cromwell

Since the Law Center’s founding in 1989, Sullivan & Cromwell has been a steadfast pro bono partner – in fact, it was Sullivan & Cromwell’s commitment to pro bono work that allowed our founder to start her fight toward ending homelessness and led to the founding of the Law Center. Over the past year, Sullivan & Cromwell has made a powerful impact with their pro bono support, and we are proud to honor them with this year’s Pro Bono Counsel Award.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Center has partnered with Sullivan & Cromwell to identify the responses enacted by communities across the country to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. S&C attorneys monitored and synthesized news alerts into an accessible spreadsheet that we used to assess how communities were serving the needs of unhoused people in real time.

This data has been made publicly available on the Law Center’s Coronavirus hub and has contributed to resources based around the Law Center’s COVID-19 pandemic recommendations. The resources created by Sullivan & Cromwell not only helped the Law Center’s advocacy, but they also helped local advocates and organizers proactively protect their communities.

Thank you, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and all your pro bono attorneys!

Thank you to Dell For Protecting Homeless Persons’ Data From Misuse By Law Enforcement

In February, the Law Center was approached by a city’s homeless service agency which had begun receiving requests from city councilors and law enforcement for personally identifiable data about people experiencing homelessness. These requests were for the purpose of determining who had been offered shelter, under the (misguided) theory that if an individual had been offered shelter in the past, law enforcement would be able to ticket or arrest them for camping or sleeping on the streets in compliance with the 9th Circuit’s decision in the Law Center’s landmark Martin v. Boise case. The city agency wanted legal support in resisting these complaints, knowing that if this data were shared, it would hinder their ability to have individuals trust them and bring them into housing and services.

Given their expertise in data privacy, the Law Center turned to Ron Zollman at Boomi, a fast growth subsidiary of Dell that is spinning out to become a separate company later this year, for assistance in writing a memo to support the agency. The memo achieved its goal of giving the agency grounding to stop the requests and got rave reviews from agency staff who wrote “Thanks again for this Ron…for lending us your expertise on this and crafting this so thoroughly and thoughtfully!” We echo these sentiments, and emphasize that, as this example shows, there are many ways to use legal skills on behalf of people experiencing homelessness.

Thank you to Sullivan & Cromwell For Helping The Law Center Monitor Community Responses to Homelessness During the COVID 19 Pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have partnered with Sullivan & Cromwell to identify the responses enacted by communities across the country to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Sullivan attorneys monitored and synthesized news alerts into an accessible spreadsheet that we used to assess how communities were serving the needs of unhoused people in real time. Sullivan attorneys further categorized the responses based on whether it was initiated by the local, state, or federal government, a private entity, or a public/private partnership. Sullivan attorneys also identified the kind of response and how much of specific responses were observed throughout the pandemic.

This tracking has helped inform the Law Center’s advocacy for people experiencing homelessness during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. This data has been made publicly available on the Law Center’s Coronavirus hub and has contributed to resources based around the Law Center’s COVID-19 pandemic recommendations. The Law Center expects to develop additional resources because of this tracker and expects to rely on the data within the tracker for significant post-COVID 19 advocacies.

Thank you to Sullivan & Cromwell for your time creating this valuable database!

Thank you to Dechert LLP For Drafting Amicus Brief For Blake v. City of Grants Pass

 In Blake v. City of Grants Pass, a class of homeless plaintiffs represented by the Oregon Law Center successfully challenged a combination of city policies that punish unhoused people for resting and taking necessary steps to stay warm and dry in public space even though Grants Pass lacks an emergency shelter. The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon found that Grants Pass’ policies violate the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments clause. This case is the first to clarify that the Eighth Amendment, as interpreted in Martin v. City of Boise, prohibits cruel and unusual punishment whether the punishment is designated as civil or criminal.

The case is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit, and the Law Center joined with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project to submit an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs-Appellees. The amicus brief, prepared with pro bono support from Dechert LLP, argues that Grants Pass’ policies punish involuntary homelessness, jeopardize public health and safety, and worsen the homelessness crisis while wasting public resources. The Law Center also joined with the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Clinic and Leilani Farha, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, to submit an amicus brief arguing that punishing homelessness violates fundamental human rights.

If summary judgment is affirmed on appeal, this case will build on the success of Martin v. City of Boise—precedent established in litigation by the Law Center, Idaho Legal Aid, and Latham & Watkins—to limit punitive approaches to homelessness and, instead, encourage constructive solutions to the crisis.

Big thank you to Eric Auslander, Tharuni Jayaraman, Nicolle Jacoby, and Christopher Denney from Dechert for drafting an excellent brief. Our friends at the Oregon Law Center were so impressed by the work, that they sent us the following message:

This brief surpassed our high expectations.  It seems even more detailed and powerful than the super-helpful district court amicus.  [We] were texting our favorite parts last night after the brief was filed.  It’s a weird experience to read something that makes you happy (imagine fist pumps and chef kisses) because it so clearly captures what you know to be true in the world and also so sad (and scared) because of what that truth means for our friends and neighbors living outside.

Also, the fact that the brief had such a strong familiarity with our factual record in this case really makes it stand out.  Those national statistics, plus the deep dive into this case makes for a very persuasive brief.

Please pass along our sincere thanks!

Thank you to Fish & Richardson for Helping the Law Center Monitor and Respond to Criminalization Nationwide

Since 2019, we have partnered with Fish & Richardson to monitor and respond to the criminalization of homelessness at the local level. Fish attorneys spend a significant amount of time each week monitoring and synthesizing news alerts so we can know in real time which cities are proposing legislation to criminalize homelessness, conducting sweeps, or other similar activities.

After monitoring these measures, Fish and Law Center attorneys gather weekly to discuss what responses, if any, are appropriate regarding new and old criminalization entries. Typically, our responses involve sending letters to Mayors, City Councilpersons, and other relevant parties in opposition to proposed criminalization. Fish attorneys help draft letters based on various categories of criminalization. Generally, we submit letters in response to sweeps, camping bans, and panhandling ordinances.

Fish attorneys have assisted us in sending over 50 letters to various communities across the country. Though each letter has a variable impact, this project has allowed us to contact City Councilpersons and encouraged community responses to homelessness that lead to housing. Due in large part to our joint advocacy, we have seen some proposed legislation get tabled and influenced cities to conduct sweeps in ways that produce better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.

The Law Center wants to thank Fish & Richardson for their time and partnership on this important effort! Thank you!

Connecticut Senate Passes First Statewide Recognition of the Human Right to Housing, Based on Goodwin Research

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 research done by Goodwin last year to support a similar effort in California. 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 was a collaboration between the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and the Law Center and was also supported by the extraordinary pro bono contributions of Stephen Kennedy, an extern from the University of Connecticut School of Law. It was introduced through the leadership of Connecticut State Senator Saud Anwar and Representative Brian McGee. Although scaled back from its initial ambitions, SB 194 establishes an inclusive right to housing committee to review the state’s implementation of the right to housing, 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 implement the right.

The bill has been added to the calendar for the Connecticut House, with a favorable committee report, so 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 the Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color who make up the state’s poorest residents and are most in need of support in obtaining safe, decent, affordable housing. The Law Center will be tracking progress closely.

Akin Gump Helps Law Center Track Administration Progress on Homelessness

Prior to the Presidential Transition, the Law Center shared a list of its top First 100 Days recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration. With the help of LEAP Member Akin Gump, the Law Center now has a weekly-updated First 100 Days Scorecard which shows the actions the new Administration has taken, and which ones they have yet to take. With Akin’s assistance, we are holding the Administration accountable to addressing the needs of homeless persons during the pandemic and beyond.

LEAP Member Baker Donelson Makes Positive Pro Bono Impact with the Creation and Publication of 2020 State Index on Youth Homelessness

The Law Center, True Colors United, and Baker Donelson announced the release of the 2020 State Index on Youth Homelessness on February 23rd. This is the third consecutive year of the index, and the first year that Baker Donelson have come together to evaluate all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness.

The 2020 State Index on Youth Homelessness, authored by Brandy Ryan of the Law Center and Dylan Waguespack of True Colors United, assigns each state a score based on its efforts to:

  • Ensure comprehensive supports and services for youth experiencing homelessness;
  • Prevent youth contact with criminal and juvenile legal systems;
  • Provide unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness the opportunity to seek legal independence, and more.

“Even in a year without global catastrophe, young people experiencing homelessness face persistent barriers to shelter, health care, and life sustaining services. Disasters like COVID-19 exacerbate those inequities and make our work that much more critical,” said Brandy Ryan, Staff Attorney at the Law Center. “We are so grateful to the pro bono team at Baker Donelson. With their help, we are clearly showing states how their efforts on youth homelessness are working and where they can improve.”

From highest to lowest, the highest 10 scores in the 2020 State Index were earned by District of Columbia, Washington, Connecticut and Massachusetts (tied), California, New York, Maine, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Colorado. From lowest to highest, the lowest 10 scores were earned by North Dakota, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Idaho, Nebraska and Arkansas (tied), Alaska, and Virginia.

“Over the past year, young people across the US and the agencies who serve them have had our worlds turned upside down,” Dylan Waguespack, Public Policy and External Affairs Director at True Colors United, stated. “Our actions today to provide meaningful support and relief to young people and their families could make or break efforts to end homelessness among all populations in 30 years. The metrics included in the State Index are critical to ensuring that youth and young adults can access the housing and health services they need to stay safe.”

There are too many attorneys on Baker Donelson’s team to individually thank here, but we would like to recognize your efforts and openly thank you for your work and support of the Law Center. We believe the index will be used as a powerful tool to address youth homelessness nationwide. Your assist will make this happen.

Link to the State Index on Youth Homelessness: https://www.youthstateindex.com/

Perkins Coie Assists With Resisting Expansion of Public Charge Rule!

In 2019, President Trump proposed a revision of the “public charge” rule; which dramatically expanded the types of federal benefits that would make legal immigrants or their families ineligible for naturalization if they accepted the benefits, including non-cash housing and food benefits for the first time. This revision would have potentially pushed millions of mixed status families into homelessness and food insecurity.

With the help of Karl Sandstrom, Andrea Levien and Adrian Torres of Perkins Coie, the Law Center developed fact sheets to reduce the misinformation circulating that was chilling immigrants from accessing even non-designated benefits, assisted in developing template language for other housing and homeless organizations to submit regulatory comments, as well as drafting a comment from the Law Center itself. These added to the more than 190,000 comments—the most ever received for a proposed regulation—the volume of which helped prevent the regulatory change from becoming final during the previous Administration.

On Tuesday evening, President Biden signed a long-awaited executive order directing the review of the proposed changes with an eye to reversing them. The Law Center thanks Karl, Andrea, and Adrian for their incredible efforts during the compressed 60-day comment period, and celebrates Perkins Coie’s commitment to helping us ensure the human right to housing for all, regardless of immigration status.

Latham & Watkins Secures Settlement in Groundbreaking Martin v. Boise Case

On February 8th, lawyers representing homeless plaintiffs and the City of Boise announced a settlement in Martin v. Boise, ending over 12 years of litigation. This settlement embodies important steps towards protecting the rights of unsheltered residents in Boise—and towards real solutions to end homelessness in the City.

In 2019, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that people experiencing homelessness cannot be criminally punished for sleeping outside if there is no shelter available. Advocates have hailed the Court’s decision, which has led many cities across the United States to propose and implement constructive alternatives—instead of continuing to criminalize homelessness.

Robert Martin, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, remarked, “The overriding intention for the lawsuit was to just be allowed the same basic right to rest and sleep that every American citizen has without fear of persecution. Nobody should feel fear from police for doing something that is a basic human need. I hope that with this settlement we can open the doors to finding a better solution to the homeless crisis [rather than] to just sweep it elsewhere or lock it up out of public eye.”

The City of Boise is taking a number of historic actions toward preventing and ending homelessness. The City—amongst other actions—is updating two ordinances to protect people experiencing homelessness from being arrested, imprisoned, or fined for sleeping or camping outside if no overnight shelter is available to them.

More importantly, the City is dedicating $1.3 million in additional funds to serve Boise’s homeless community; at least one-third of which shall be committed to rehabilitating or creating additional overnight shelter space. This will help prevent the need for any enforcement of even the revised ordinances, because individuals will be safely and adequately housed. The parties have also agreed to continue working together to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness within the City have needed access to resources, services, and—where appropriate—medical and mental health care.

Pamela Hawkes Duke, another of the plaintiffs, said “I am so happy and proud to see everyone’s hard work finally come together in such a way that will help so many people. I am really looking forward to seeing what other cities come up with as time goes on, especially when the City of Boise will have laid down the foundation for what it could look like.”

“Today’s settlement in the landmark Martin v. Boise case is a win for all residents of Boise, housed and unhoused alike, and serves as a national model for how other communities should be implementing the decision,” said Eric Tars, Legal Director at the National Homelessness Law Center. “By getting homeless individuals off the streets and into housing or shelter, there will be no need to enforce any ordinances against them—housing, not handcuffs, is what ends homelessness.”

As Howard Belodoff, Associate Director of Idaho Legal Aid Services, stated, “The settlement represents the efforts of hundreds of homeless citizens of Boise who were prevented from accessing overnight shelter to sleep due to a disability, limited shelter capacity and shelter policies. The settlement requires the City to focus on services rather than the far more expensive punishment in the criminal justice system and incarceration in the Ada County Jail.”

“The Ninth Circuit’s landmark decision resolved that the Eighth Amendment prohibits cities from criminalizing the status of homelessness itself by punishing individuals for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go,” said Latham & Watkins partner Michael Bern. “The City’s commitment to safeguard the rights of Boise’s residents and dedicate additional funds to preventing and ending homelessness will produce meaningful benefits for Boise’s homeless community as well as the City of Boise itself.”

Everyone at the Law Center sincerely appreciates the hard work, dedication, and resources that Latham & Watkins allocated to this case. It took over a decade to get to this point, so the specific contributions and individual names of every attorney who worked on this project are too large to mention in this format; however, your contributions have not gone unnoticed and will be honored. This project serves as a powerful example of how law firms and public interest groups can work together to make a great positive impact and provide access to justice to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

Mintz, The Law Center, and The Massachusetts Coalition For The Homeless, Secure An Appellate Victory Before the Supreme Court of Massachusetts

The case was brought by the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and two people who are experiencing homelessness. The two were charged with violating a “panhandling” statute that subjects violators to criminal prosecution and a fine for signaling to motor vehicles on a public way, causing the vehicle to stop, or accosting an occupant of the vehicle for purposes of soliciting alms, contribution or subscription or selling of merchandise. The statute was ruled unconstitutional on its face by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Eric Tars, Legal Director of the NHLC, noted the significance of the case: “On the one hand, this case might be seen as just another nail in the coffin of these archaic and cruel anti-begging laws, consistent with the dozens of other cases decided on the issue since 2015. But this case has special significance, because most laws criminalizing homelessness are local ordinances, not state statutes, and this case creates statewide impact for the thousands of Massachusetts residents experiencing homelessness. And, from the legal perspective, the fact that the state supreme court cited directly to our amicus brief in its opening footnote, and then echoed our points on the uniform and incontrovertible strength of the constitutional precedent, makes this an extremely strong decision that we will be citing to in our litigation for years to come.”

Now that the unconstitutional panhandling statute has been removed from the books in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth can turn its attention where it ought to be: addressing the root causes of homelessness, which, as the amicus brief notes, include the lack of affordable housing and systemic racism. Tars further explained, “The amici prioritized addressing the fact that because homelessness has a disparate racial impact, panhandling laws, like other low-level violations directed at people experiencing poverty and homelessness, are part of the broader fabric of laws that create over-incarceration of Black and Brown communities. We at the Law Center are so happy to have the power of Mintz’s pro bono attorneys standing in solidarity with us on this.”

Read more about Mintz’s great work in this case here: https://news.mintz.com/cv/05977e992976c9c55204c7d62abdf50d28c88ca2

Fish & Richardson will be presented with the Pro Bono Counsel Award at Tonight’s McKinney-Vento Awards

The Law Center is proud to present the Pro Bono Counsel Award to Fish & Richardson. We are honoring Fish for advancing solutions to homelessness and poverty through their pro bono work on Bloom v. San Diego, federal court litigation challenging laws and practices that criminalize people sleeping in their vehicles. Additionally, Fish & Richardson provides critical pro bono support to our “SWAT” team; which helps the Law Center and our local partners to proactively challenge criminalization ordinances.

Akin Gump Helps Produce Urgent Guidance on Racial Equity Executive Order

On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950 on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (“EO 13950”). EO 13950 claims to combat the perpetuation of racial or sex stereotyping in the workplace by prohibiting federal contractors from providing workplace training that inculcates in its employees what the administration deems as “divisive concepts,” but that are fundamental to current anti-racism work in the U.S., and ultimately, to ending homelessness in America. Other national housing and homeless advocacy organizations turned to the Law Center to help determine what steps they need to take to protect themselves under the order while they continue their anti-racism work, and potentially to help them challenge the order in court. The Law Center, in turn, reached out to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for their quick assistance in developing practical tips for housing and homelessness prevention organizations who receive federal funding and may be affected by the order, issued earlier this month. The Law Center and its partners are extremely grateful to Akin for helping our field maintain its strong commitment to anti-racist and broader anti-discriminatory education and advocacy.

LEAP Member Goodwin Helped Create A 50 State Know Your Rights Voting Cards for People Experiencing Homelessness

 Goodwin, in combination with TrustLaw, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and the Law Center created an up-to-date voting guide for people experiencing homelessness in all 50 states and the District. Goodwin assigned a team of over 25 lawyers who researched voting laws and best practices, then compiled the information into templates that were converted over into professional cards by TrustLaw. The Cards will be distributed to homelessness networks by the National Coalition and the Law Center. Thanks to all who worked on this project. The Cards can be found here: https://homelesslaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Know-Your-Voting-Rights-Guide-2020-General-Election.pdf

U.S. District Court declares Statutes prohibiting unpermitted charitable solicitation on Florida roadways unconstitutional under the First Amendment and issues permanent injunction

On October 15th, in a major First Amendment victory, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has declared Florida Statutes 316.2045 and 337.406—which prohibit the solicitation of charitable contributions on Florida roadways except by charitable organizations or when a local government permit has been issued— unconstitutional.

The plaintiff, Peter Vigue, was repeatedly arrested by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Department and the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)—and spent time in jail for violating these statutes—by holding up signs with “God bless. Be safe.” and asking for help along the roadside.

In February 2019, Southern Legal Counsel sued St. Johns County Sheriff David B. Shoar and FHP Director Gene Spaulding on Vigue’s behalf along with co-counsel from the National Homelessness Law Center, with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.

The court’s ruling recognized that the challenged statutes unlawfully prohibited Mr. Vigue from asking for help on roadways, which is protected First Amendment expression. According to Kristen Anderson, litigation director from the Southern Legal Counsel, “this decision vindicates that we all share the fundamental right to freedom of speech, no matter who you are or how much money you have.”

LEAP Member Simpson Thacher Helped Promote Social Equity Through Work with Drafting Comment on Equal Access Rule

 The Law Center successfully partnered with attorneys in Simpson Thacher to create a comment opposing HUD’s proposed amendment to the Equal Access Rule. We learned that at 66,394 comments (and possibly some not yet counted), the Anti-Trans Shelter Rule has received significantly more comments than any other bigtime HUD proposed rule of the past few years, including the mixed-status rule, affirmatively furthering fair housing, and disparate impact. Our comment was a part of a coalition of groups fighting for LGBTQ rights and housing rights throughout the country!

Major Homeless Encampment Victory Secured in Philadelphia

 As you may or may not have heard, yet those in Philadelphia are aware, there has been a huge encampment on the Ben Franklin Parkway stemming from the George Floyd protests earlier this summer (https://6abc.com/philly-homeless-encampment-encampement-ben-franklin-parkway-philadelphia-housing-authority/6421610/). The city has threatened to shut it down multiple times, but they’ve backed off, and we received a call from one of the organizers that the City is finally willing to meet one of the encampment’s primary demands, which is to shift control of some of the city’s vacant properties to a community land trust run by the camp residents, which is a major victory!

The camp organizers are now in the process of setting up a corporate structure for the trust and are in the process of securing counsel to assist with the legal details of the property transfer (see pro bono project request below). If you, or anyone in your firm is interested in helping us secure this major victory for the long run, please respond to the request below.

Thanks To LEAP Member, McCarter & English, For Helping Secure A Win in our Appeal  

Great news in our FEMA FOIA appeal to get information on how FEMA collects and uses data and policies and procedures for ensuring people have access to assistance following disasters. Our appeal was granted, and the mater has been remanded to FEMA’s Disclosure Branch for further handling. Specifically, if the disclosure branch cannot explain its finding of “no responsive records” for categories of requested documents, then the Disclosure Branch must perform another search for documents responsive to the categories.

This matter has been ongoing since April 2018. McCarter & English’s great & persistent support helped make this result possible. We thank you for your continued support of the Law Center and our mission.

LEAP Member Dechert LLP Helped Promote Racial Equity in Austin, TX

 The Law Center successfully partnered with attorneys in Dechert LLP’s Austin Texas office, to support the City’s unanimous passage of the Fair Chance Housing Resolution. The Fair Chance Housing Resolution (“Resolution”) will prevent homelessness in Austin by removing unnecessary barriers to rental housing access based on past evictions and criminal histories. Moreover, the Resolution will help to promote racial equity in Austin by reducing the disparate impact of discriminatory rental admission policies on Black and Brown people—who represent a disproportionately high percentage of Austin’s homeless population.

Thanks To LEAP Member, Dechert LLP, For Helping Secure Victory in Blake v. City of Grants Pass

 On July 22, people experiencing homelessness in Grants Pass, Oregon—and across the Ninth Circuit—won further support for their right to not be punished for trying to survive involuntary homelessness.  The U.S. District Court in the District of Oregon issued an opinion in Blake v. City of Grants Pass,  confirming last year’s landmark Ninth Circuit decision in Martin v. City of Boise by limiting a City’s ability to engage in criminalization of homelessness applies not only to jail sentences, but also to punishing fines for engaging in life-sustaining conduct in the absence of any adequate alternative.

This is the first case to clarify that civil fines are included in the scope of Martin’s ruling from last December. Moreover, the opinion states that fines levied against people simply because they are too impoverished to afford housing are not only cruel and unusual punishment, but also constitute excessive fines under the 8th Amendment.

This victory would have been more difficult to secure without the help of our pro partner, Dechert, LLP. They stepped in to help shortly after we sent out an emergency alert for assistance with drafting an amicus brief and additional legal support. We are grateful for the opportunity to call for the assistance of our entire network of dedicated and experienced pro bono partners when we are in need.

The Law Center hosted two important webinars about racial equity and justice during the month of June. The first webinar was hosted on June 3rd. It was titled Racial Equity, Homelessness, and COVID-19. The webinar had nearly 900 registrants; which was a record for the Law Center. The second was hosted on June 17th, and was titled Policing, Incarceration, Homelessness, and COVID-19. This webinar set a new high for registrants at nearly 1200. This upward registrant trend suggests our message and profile is spreading to larger audiences; which would not be fully possible without our Pro Bono network.

The Law Center would like to thank Bernard Guinyard, Director of Diversity + Inclusion at Goodwin Procter, LLP, for presenting during our Racial Equity, Homelessness, and COVID-19 Webinar. Goodwin’s systemic and people-oriented initiatives serve as another model for how law firms and in-house legal departments can produce empowered work environments where diverse associates can thrive.

Our next webinar is on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 from 2:00 – 3:30 PM. It is titled Protecting Renters, Preventing Homelessness, and COVID-19. You can listen to our entire COVID webinar series by clicking on this link: https://homelesslaw.org/resources/webinars/.

The Law Center would like to honor the support of Fish & Richardson which has taken on our “SWAT Team” project, to help identify pending ordinances criminalizing homelessness and “swat” them down before they pass. In March, they identified an anti-camping ordinance being proposed in Fort Lauderdale and helped draft an opposition letter which helped us get the attention of the city council as well as other advocates. We mobilized local partners to testify, and we provided testimony as well, ultimately resulting last Tuesday in the defeat of the ordinance by a 3 to 2 vote, with a number of city councilors echoing language from our letter in their debate. Even better, the city is offering hotel rooms to at least some residents of encampments for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. For more details, see here: https://bit.ly/3cm7E1O.

Pro Bono Spotlight

Headshot of Attorney Taylor Reeves

Taylor Reeves is an associate in the Delaware office of Fish & Richardson P.C, focusing on patent litigation. In just under two years, she has been on three trial teams, assisting in witness preparation and motion drafting.

Prior to joining the firm, she served as an intern with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for the Honorable Thomas I. Vanaskie (2018), and served as an extern with the District Court of Delaware for the Honorable Christopher J. Burke (2019-2020). While attending Thomas R. Kline’s School of Law, Ms. Reeves competed on her law school’s Moot Court team, including at the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition. She received recognition for being a Top 5 Oralist and Top 3 Memorial drafter.

At Fish & Richardson, P.C., Ms. Reeves assists in leading a dedicated group of colleagues to investigate local government actions that criminalize homelessness throughout the United States and draft letters to local governments explaining how their actions are improper and offering assistance in finding a different resolution.

“Partnering with the National Homelessness Law Center has been a fulfilling and meaningful experience. It is so important to be aware of how our country treats those experiencing homelessness and speak up when that treatment is wrong. The Law Center’s dedication to making positive change through local outreach is something I am grateful to be a small part of.”

How to Join our Pro Bono Network

Contact Carlton Martin at cmartin@homelesslaw.org if you are interested in joining our Pro Bono Network. Upon contact we will add your name and contact information to our Pro Bono Mailing List.

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