About the Law Center
The National Homelessness Law Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., and is the only national legal group dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness. We operate programs across the United States that serve America’s more than 3.5 million homeless families, children and individuals.
We believe that the right 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.
In the mid-1980s, our founder, Maria Foscarinis, was a lawyer working at a large firm when she volunteered to represent homeless families on a pro bono basis. After seeing the impact of first-rate legal advocacy on the lives of those experiencing homelessness, Maria left the firm to dedicate herself to that work full-time.
She went on to become a principal architect of the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation to address homelessness. In 1989, she founded the National Homelessness Law Center (then the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty) with one goal in mind: to end homelessness in America.
Since 1989, we have used the power of the law to advocate for millions of men, women, children and families whose voices are seldom heard. We have put homeless children back in school, won new resources for affordable housing, prevented homelessness for renters, overturned laws that criminalize homelessness, and built support for the human right to housing here at home.
Our advocacy ranges from intervening locally to ensure children can stay in the only school they have known to spearheading significant litigation to offer unused federal properties to the homeless. We persevere until the issue has been resolved and the impact felt by the affected individuals.
Today, our team is comprised primarily of attorneys, who are experts on homelessness and poverty issues and include specialists in housing, civil rights, human rights, youth and education, and domestic violence.
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 and technical support, the Law Center also enhances the capacity of local and national groups to become more effective voices for the needs and rights of people experiencing homelessness.
Our core conviction in carrying out this critically important work is that no one should have to go without safe, affordable housing in a country as wealthy as ours. And while we’ve made much progress, there is still much to do as the affordable housing crisis, high underemployment rates, and low wages continue to push record numbers of men, women, and children into homelessness. We understand that people of color and women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately and uniquely affected by homelessness, and our work consciously and affirmatively seeks to address these interrelated inequities.
We continue to use legal innovations in our systemic litigation and policy advocacy to transform fundamentally the landscape of homelessness and poverty in this country. And, as we work with communities across the country, we stay connected with the realities on the ground—and opportunities for change.
In 2018, for example, we won a major victory when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize the simple act of sleeping outside on public property when no alternative adequate shelter exists. With roots tracing back to Jim Crow days, such laws disproportionately affect and harm people of color; fighting against them—and for housing—is a major focus of our work. In response to our court victory, dozens of cities have already repealed or stopped enforcing their anti-camping laws.
In 2012, we worked with advocates in Rhode Island on the nation’s first-ever enforceable state Homeless Bill of Rights, helping to shape that legislation to protect against the criminalization of homelessness and other discrimination based on housing status and to call for recognition of the human right to housing. Now, thanks to advocacy by our state and local level allies, more states have adopted such laws and we are providing vital legal support to this growing movement.
As we carry out this work, we are committed to solutions that end and prevent homelessness – addressing its causes, not just its symptoms. For example, we know that domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and, often, their children. As highlighted in Matthew Desmond’s best-selling book Evicted, women of color are especially vulnerable to eviction due to domestic violence and weak protections for tenants.
In March 2013, after three years of advocacy, we, together with our allies, won a major victory that protects survivors of domestic violence when Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, extending housing protections for victims of domestic violence to some 4 million additional households nationally.
In 2018, we, together with our allies, won protections for another vulnerable group of tenants—those living in foreclosed properties who, through no fault of their own, risk summary eviction and homelessness—with enactment of the federal protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act.
In Dallas, Texas, many of the city’s more than 7,000 homeless residents struggle with hunger every day. Thanks to our work, unfair city laws and policies that prevented private, charitable organizations from providing food to them have been invalidated. Now, these groups can offer the necessary food, solace, and social services to people in need.
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.
The National Homelessness 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.
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.