An Inspired Team

The Law Center leverages its legal expertise and the pro bono power of the private bar
in its fight to establish a right to housing in the United States. 

About the Law Center

The National Homelessness Law Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., and seeks to serve as the legal arm of the national movement to end and prevent homelessness. We believe that the human rights to adequate housing, healthcare, food, and education lie at the heart of human dignity and we envision a world where no one has to go without the basics of human survival. While seeking universal enjoyment of human rights, we also understand that homelessness disparately impacts Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities, and those living at the intersections of multiple forms of marginalization and our policy responses must consciously and affirmatively address those inequities.

Since 1989, we have leveraged the power of the public and private bar to amplify the voices and concerns of those directly impacted by homelessness & poverty. Through policy advocacy, public education, and impact litigation, the Law Center’s national programs address the root causes of homelessness and meet the immediate and long-term needs of those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Through training, technical support, and network building, the Law Center also enhances the capacity of local and national groups to become more effective partners in advocating for the needs and rights of people experiencing homelessness.

Today, our team includes attorneys with lived expertise of homelessness, poverty, racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as substantive expertise in housing, civil rights, human rights, public benefits, and youth issues, and other staff with expertise in communications, non-profit development, and operations. Though the Law Center’s staff is small, we leverage four to six times our budget each year in volunteer pro bono legal services, multiplying our impact on behalf of people experiencing homelessness.

Our History

The National Homelessness Law Center was founded in 1989 as the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty by Maria Foscarinis, a lawyer who initially volunteered to represent homeless families on a pro bono basis. She was a principal architect of the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation to address homelessness and founded the Law Center to help ensure the legislation would be properly implemented.


2020: As COVID pandemic hits, Law Center obtains CDC Guidance emphasizing homeless encampments should be left in place and provided sanitation unless individual housing options can be provided and commitment from FEMA to reimburse communities for non-congregate sheltering, saving tens of thousands of lives of people experiencing homelessness.

2020: Law Center defeats certiorari attempt to get the Supreme Court to overturn Martin v. City of Boise, leading the Trump Administration to scrap plans for placing homeless persons in large scale internment camps.

2019: Martin v. City of Boise – The Ninth Circuit en banc affirms its landmark ruling holding that it is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to punish homeless persons for sleeping in public when they have no private alternatives.

2018: Law Center and True Colors United release a first-of-its-kind resource that evaluates laws and policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their impact on youth homelessness.

2018: Law Center launches #IAskForHelpBecause Campaign as part of the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign, a nationwide effort to strike down bans on panhandling, changing laws or enforcement in more than 70 communities.

2018: NLCHP v. Greensboro – Greensboro repealed its panhandling ordinance following Law Center, together with the ACLU of North Carolina and Legal Aid of North Carolina, filing a First Amendment challenge to this North Carolina city’s ordinance punishing homeless and other poor people from asking for donations.

2018: Martin v. City of Boise – The Ninth Circuit makes a landmark ruling holding that it is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to punish homeless persons for sleeping in public when they have no private alternative; with the Law Center’s advocacy, dozens of cities stop enforcing their ordinances and begin considering more constructive, housing based solutions.

2017: After nearly a decade of advocacy by the Law Center, homeless New York students are now able to stay in school while disputes about their eligibility, school selection, or enrollment are pending.

2017: Law Center helps protect the U.S Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget rom proposed cuts by the Trump Administration.

2016: The Law Center launches the Housing Not Handcuffs campaign together with the National Coalition for the Homeless and more than 100 organizations, with a goal of moving law and policy away from criminalization and towards housing.

2016: As a result of the Law Center’s federal advocacy, the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act of 2016 (FAST Act) includes improvements to the federal surplus property program, created by Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act, including allowing its use for permanent housing.

2016: Law Center advocates for people living in encampments by providing assistance in Cobine v. City of Eureka, California and Buker v. City of Akron, Ohio, ultimately helping plaintiffs win a court order requiring Akron to provide due process to homeless citizens in encampments.

2015: Norton v. City of Springfield – Law Center successfully challenges the city’s ban on begging in public as a violation of free speech rights. Since this case, every subsequent federal challenge to a panhandling ordinance has been successful.

2015: United States Department of Justice (DOJ) supports Law Center’s position in Bell v. City of Boise with a strong amicus brief, spurring national media coverage and prompting several cities across the country to stop criminalizing sleeping in public in the absence of alternatives.

2015: Law Center wins agreement of HUD to include a funding incentive for communities to stop criminalizing homelessness in its $2 billion continuum of care funding stream.

2014: Following Law Center advocacy, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemn criminalization of homelessness and call for United States action.

2013: Law Center wins major expansion of federal housing rights in Violence Against Women Act for survivors, covering over four million additional households.

2013: Law Center’s National Symposium on the Human Right to Housing (co-organized with Columbia and Northeastern Law Schools) draws 200 leading lawyers, activists, and practitioners.

2013: Illinois and Connecticut pass Homeless Bill of Rights, with Law Center support.

2013: Following Law Center advocacy, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) adds human rights and alternatives to criminalization page to website.

2013: ACLU v. Boise – law barring begging repealed following settlement in Law Center and ACLU lawsuit.

2012: Big Hart v. Dallas – Law Center federal court case challenging law preventing faith-based groups from offering food to poor is successful, and law is struck down.

2012: Law Center’s “Disaster Edition” of education rights manual helps children displaced by Hurricane Sandy stay in their schools and receive meals and basic health care.

2012: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and Department of Justice (DOJ) publish report condemning criminalization as constitutional and human rights violation, citing the Law Center.

2012: With Law Center support, Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights passes, the first state law of its kind.

2011: Law Center hosts official visit of United Nations expert on Right to Water & Sanitation, who addresses criminalization as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the first time.

2011: Dane County, Wisconsin enacts right to housing resolution, with Law Center support.

2010: A.E. v. Carlynton – Law Center and allies win favorable settlement, upholding education rights of four children and reforming policy for 38,000 homeless children in Pennsylvania.

2010: With Law Center advocacy, United Nations Human Rights Council calls for United States to increase protections for homeless persons.

2009: Law Center files Bell v. Boise, later renamed Martin v. Boise, together with Idaho Legal Aid Services and Latham & Watkins, challenging Boise’s laws criminalizing camping and disorderly conduct as applied to homeless persons sleeping in public with no alternative place to sleep.

2009: Law Center helps reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Act in the HEARTH Act, including language requiring that United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) for the first time address criminalization of homelessness.

2009: Law Center hosts official United States six-city visit of top United Nations officials on Human Right to Adequate Housing, culminating in a national tribunal at the Law Center’s National Forum on the Human Right to Housing.

2009: Law Center report documents impact of foreclosures on renters and failure of the law in the 50 states to protect renters from unfair eviction. Relying on this information, Congress passed the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) to protect tenants from unfair eviction.

2007: Law Center hosts 5-city video-conferenced National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, with more than 250 advocates across the country.

2007: Law Center successfully advocates for the expansion of rights of homeless pre-school age children to attend pre-school.

2006: Sacco v. Las Vegas – law criminalizing sharing food with anyone who “looks indigent” overturned with Law Center amicus support.

2006: Law Center and allies win McWaters v. FEMA, providing emergency housing for people made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

2005: Law Center wins addition of housing rights for survivors of domestic violence in federally funded housing in Violence Against Women Act.

2005: Law Center manual and advocacy help create Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR).

2005: Law Center’s advocacy ensures education rights for children made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

2004: Law Center settles NLCHP v. Suffolk County winning the right of 1,400 homeless children to go to school and broader reforms in New York State.

2004: Law Center wins inclusion of homeless students in Higher Education Act to protect their rights.

2003: Law Center wins inclusion of homeless students in Title I, the major federal education program for low-income students.

2003: Law Center advocacy wins $8 million in federal funding per year for 3 years, helping over 1,200 homeless persons to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

2003: Law Center partners with the Center for Housing Rights and Evictions and hosts first National Forum on the Human Right to Housing.

2001: Law Center wins expanded the educational rights for homeless students in need of special education in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

1999: Law Center initiates Homeless Advocates Group, convening national organizations monthly to share strategies and priorities and move them forward.

1997: Law Center and partners launch Meeting America’s Housing Needs to promote Habitat II Agenda in United States.

1996: Law Center wins language addressing criminalization of homelessness and housing as a human right in resolution adopted by the United Nations Habitat II conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

1994: Law Center wins federal law requiring that the needs of homeless people be addressed in realignment of military bases.

1994: Law Center wins federal appeals court ruling in Lampkin v. DC establishing homeless children have enforceable right to education under Title VII of the McKinney-Vento Act.

1993: Law Center wins federal court ruling in NLCHP v. GSA requiring federal agencies to implement Title V of McKinney-Vento Act to make unused federal property available for free to aid homeless people.

1990: Law Center sues Social Security Administration, challenging process that leaves many eligible homeless people without Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits and publishes Go Directly to Jail, first-ever national report documenting emerging trend of criminalization of homelessness in nine cities.

1989: Law Center founded to use power of the law to end and prevent homelessness in America. Publishes report assessing implementation of 1987 law, now known as McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

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Our Vision

Our vision is for an end to homelessness in America. A home for every family and individual will be a right and not a privilege; a reality, not just a goal.

Our Mission

The Law Center is the only national advocacy organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness in America.  With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we use our legal expertise to help pass, implement and enforce laws addressing the immediate and long-term needs of those who are homeless or at risk.  In partnership with state and local advocates, we work towards strengthening the social safety net through advocacy and advocacy training, public education, and impact litigation.

Our Values

The Law Center is founded on the belief that in a society that has enough for all, no one should have to go without the basic necessities of life. Everyone should have equal access to justice and opportunity. Specifically:

  • We believe in the inherent value and dignity of all human beings.
  • We understand that people of color, the LBGTQ+ community, youth, individuals with disabilities, low-income, and other vulnerable groups are disproportionately and uniquely impacted by homelessness.
  • We believe that housing is a human right, as recognized by the United Nations and several countries around the world.
  • We believe it is possible to end homelessness in the United States. We are committed to that goal as well as to reducing the harmful effects of homelessness on those who experience it until our ultimate goal is met.
  • We strive to reflect the voices and experiences of homeless and at risk people in our work and to support their own advocacy.
  • We believe that our advocacy is most powerful in collaboration with others, and we partner with pro bono attorneys and firms, other national and local organizations, grass roots advocates, and people who are homeless to amplify our capacity and leverage each contributor’s unique ideas, skills, and resources.

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