August 2019

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Dear Friends—

I’m writing as we’ve just said good-bye to our summer interns, and it’s an especially poignant moment. Our interns—both law and undergraduate did stellar work for us, and you can read about them here. And their energy, commitment and dedication to social justice are a source of inspiration to all of us and to me personally.

Last month, we celebrated the Law Center’s 30 years of impact—making a difference in the lives of millions of people. The interns who helped mark the occasion—including creating a timeline of impact over the years—had not even been born when homelessness first became a national crisis and we started our work.

Now they are joining our cause and our call for basic human rights for all. Earlier this summer, with their help, we launched an election guide calling on all candidates to support policies to end and prevent homelessness, including the human right to housing. To amplify our impact, we also joined the Our Homes, Our Votes campaign led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

We were pleased our guide began to generate news coverage, and to see some of the candidates address these issues, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Julián Castro.

Homelessness is not a new phenomenon, nor are people experiencing it “filth” to be “cleaned up,” contrary to the President’s recent outrageous comments. Nor has always been with us. As our friend and former Bruce F. Vento Awardee Sherrod Brown noted, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, born of slashed safety net, rising inequality, and deliberate public policy choices.

It can and must be ended. And a new generation of activists is rising up to meet the challenge.

Maria Foscarinis

Founder & Executive Director

“Habitual Drunkard” Law Ends in Virginia, Opening Room for Constructive Alternatives

On August 2, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that Virginia would not appeal the 4th Circuit’s decision striking down an antiquated law allowing police to arrest and imprison people deemed “habitual drunkards”. This decision not to fight to keep the habitual drunkard law brings Virginia out of the 18th Century and sets an example for alternative solutions in the modern age, where we know that the best outcomes are reached not through criminalization and imprisonment but through supportive systems and creative alternatives to the criminal justice system.

The Virginia habitual drunkard law allowed the state courts to declare a person a “habitual drunkard,” making it a crime for those people to merely possess alcohol. But there was no clear definition for “habitual drunkard”, allowing the state to deem even occasional heavy drinkers as “drunkards”. As the 4th Circuit stated in its decision, this meant the state could target any person the state thought was undesirable, including those experiencing homelessness.

The Law Center and its allies worked together to talk with the Virginia AG and to impress upon him how ineffective these kinds of antiquated laws are and offered constructive alternatives that actually help to end homelessness and improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. Alternative programs also allow police to stop spending time arresting unsheltered people for conduct that would be legal if they were inside homes. Instead, police can spend their time addressing real public health and safety concerns rather than arresting people based on their shelter status. Not only does this increase overall public safety, but it saves money on police resources.

With Viriginia’s decision not to further pursue its habitual drunkard law, the commonwealth has taken an important step toward effective solutions to ending homelessness and unsheltered alcoholism. The Law Center is ready to work with the state legislature, law enforcement, and other housing advocates to find alternatives that focus on good outcomes and ultimately housing for all.


A Staff Farewell

This month, the Law Center bids goodbye to Cassidy Waskowicz, our dedicated and talented Acting Director of Development and Communications. Cassidy joined the Law Center team in March of 2018, working to coordinate the pro bono projects that help the Law Center accomplish so much of its work. She moved on to become the Law Center’s Pro Bono Counsel shortly thereafter, in June of 2018, and accepted new responsibilities again in December that year, taking up the Acting Director role for the Development and Communications team she has held until now. Here at the Law Center, we wish the best for Cassidy moving forward, and we will continue make use of the valuable contributions she provided in her time here.

Law Center in the Media

Idaho Statesman (8/21/2019) California law firm seeks friends for Boise in homeless-camping appeal to Supreme Court

NPR (8/19/2019) Amid Homelessness Crisis, Los Angeles Restricts Living In Vehicles

Uprise RI (8/19/2019) Audrey Mead: They are us

Facing South (8/16/2019) Public charge rule is Trump’s latest attack on immigrants (8/16/2019) Why did Fairhope make sleeping in vehicles illegal?

The Appeal (8/14/2019) Ohio Governor Wants to Detain Fewer Mentally Ill People Before Trial

Raleigh News & Observer (8/14/2019) Banning homeless from public places: How Myrtle Beach is using this ordinance

Street Sense Media (8/14/2019) Human Rights Alliance to review the possibility of human rights in America

Northwest Herald (8/11/2019) Woodstock repeals solicitation ordinance after civil rights groups raise free speech concerns

Huffington Post (8/02/2019) America’s Homeless Crisis Is Inspiring New Acts Of Cruelty

Virginian-Pilot (8/02/2019) Virginia won’t challenge federal court ruling that struck down state’s habitual drunkard law

WSIL TV (7/30/2019) Groups plan legal action if Carbondale doesn’t change panhandling ban

The Southern Illinoisan (7/28/2019) ACLU sends second letter to Carbondale raising concerns over panhandling ordinance

Illinois News Gazette (7/28/2019) The Big 10 with Jeff D’Alessio, July 28, 2019

Big Island Now (7/26/2019) Senators Introduce Disaster Recovery Reform Legislation

Marshall Parthenon (7/23/2019) Organizations fight against panhandling prohibition in Huntington

Indybay (7/22/2019) Nationwide Effort Calls for Housing, Not Handcuffs

Illinois Public Media (7/22/2019) ACLU Warns Danville, Other Communities To Repeal Panhandling Bans

DeSoto Times Tribune (7/20/2019) City mayors dispute ACLU claims

USA Today (7/19/2019) Barbie, Tupac, scorpions and Red Vines: News from around our 50 states

VICE News (7/19/2019) The Creative and Cruel Ways People Make Life Hell for the Homeless

BBC (7/18/2019) Florida city blasts Baby Shark song to drive away homeless from waterfront

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (7/17/2019) Mississippi ACLU asks cities to repeal panhandling penalties

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.

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