You may have already seen two pieces of momentous and exciting news about the Law Center.
First, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is becoming the National Homelessness Law Center, effective immediately. And, after 31 years at the helm, I will be stepping down as Executive Director at the end of this year.
The name change is easy. We are simplifying and streamlining our name, but our mission remains the same: to use the power of the law to end homelessness in America.
Stepping down as Executive Director is hard. I founded the Law Center in 1989, two years after enactment of the McKinney-Vento Act, following a successful campaign I led, with others. My goal was to bring to bear the power of the law—and all the privilege our society attaches to it—to make positive change in people’s lives. That’s the work that we’ve been doing since then, and it has been my privilege to lead it.
My commitment to the fight for justice comes from my family, but my entry into this work was through a pro bono case—and in turn, the Law Center has benefitted from pro bono lawyers whose donated time greatly amplifies our work and whose ranks have grown into a powerful force. The Law Center is lucky to have a talented and dedicated staff, and thanks to their efforts, our national stature, expertise, and leadership have grown. Our Board of Directors is engaged, strong, and now augmented by a new Advisory Board launched at the start of this year.
Homelessness in a country as rich as ours is not only immoral and unjust, it is the result of policy choices that reflect a deliberate disregard for the fundamental humanity and rights we all share. The structural racism that pervades our country is an inextricable part of that inhumanity and an essential cause of homelessness. I am grateful for the work of all the activists—including our own staff—who have brought renewed national attention to this injustice and made clear its connection to our work.
I am immensely proud of the work we have done together, and I am so grateful to all of you. A timeline with just a few highlights of our impact, created for our 30th anniversary celebration, is here.
I am optimistic about this moment and the future. Advocacy for real change takes time—and pays off. We have advocated for the human right to housing since 1995; last year, four major candidates for President endorsed it, and the pandemic has only strengthened our call for housing for all. We have advocated for decades for redirecting resources away from police responses to homelessness and to housing and community supports, most recently through our HNH campaign. Now, in the wake of the most recent killings of unarmed Black Americans, we add our voice to larger calls for change.
Having accomplished so much alongside our staff, Board of Directors, and countless partners and volunteers, I am ready to hand the torch to the next leader and to turn my focus to sharing my knowledge with the next generation of activists. I plan to continue work on a book about national advocacy on homelessness and am honored to have been awarded a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to work on it. I also plan to continue my teaching as adjunct faculty at Columbia Law School.
Our Board of Directors has formed a Search Committee and we have retained the executive search firm LeaderFit to lead the Board through this transition and to identify my successor while ensuring that our values, mission, and strategic focus remain as strong as ever. I will continue to lead the organization until my successor is in place and will be involved with the transition. The complete job description may be found here.
My complete statement is here. My heartfelt thanks for your unwavering support and dedication.
Founder & Executive Director
Favorable Ruling in Blake v. Grants Pass
In Blake v. City of Grants Pass, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of “all involuntarily homeless individuals living in Grants Pass, Oregon,” challenging the litany of laws imposing civil penalties for living outside. For example, Grants Pass prohibited sleeping on any public sidewalks or streets as well as camping on any public property.
The District Court relied on Martin v. Boise, a 9th Circuit case which ruled that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives. The Court found that these ordinances were unconstitutional under Martin, because “it is not enough under the Eighth Amendment to simply allow sleeping in public spaces; the Eighth Amendment also prohibits a City from punishing homeless people for taking necessary minimal measures to keep themselves warm and dry while sleeping when there are no alternative forms of shelter available.” The Court also found “It is the punishment of a person’s unavoidable status that violates the constitution, not whether that punishment is designated civil or criminal.”
The Law Center submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Grants Pass plaintiffs. In issuing its ruling, the Court cited extensively from the Law Center’s 2019 Housing Not Handcuffs report as well as directly from the Law Center’s amicus curiae brief, and recommended the city undertake constructive solutions rather than further criminalization. We thank the Oregon Law Center for its work litigating this case.
Senate and President Fail to Act to Prevent Homelessness Crisis
As the COVID-19 crisis continues and millions of Americans are under- or un-employed, the Senate and President Trump failed to act to prevent an imminent tidal wave of evictions leading to homelessness—and potentially a worsening of the COVID crisis itself. Recent estimates state that 30-40 million Americans—disproportionately communities of color—are at risk of eviction with the expiration of federal eviction and foreclosure prohibitions and supplemental unemployment benefits from the CARES Act. The Law Center worked with its allies to ensure the House-passed HEROES Act included $200 billion in additional funding for homelessness prevention and services as well as a universal 12-month eviction and foreclosure moratorium. However, the Senate adjourned for a summer vacation without passing any extension of the CARES Act benefits. Though the President issued an executive order he claimed would extend the eviction moratorium, the order only directs HUD to look at whether an eviction moratorium is necessary and whether federal funds can be re-appropriated for rental assistance. While some states and cities have local eviction mortatoria, these are uneven and do not offer universal protection.
The Law Center urges its readers to contact their Senators and Representatives to demand the immediate passage of legislation prohibiting evictions and foreclosures and adequate assistance for renters and homeowners unable to make their rental or mortgage payments for the duration of the COVID crisis.
Racism, Homelessness, and the Criminal & Juvenile Legal Systems
Poverty, homelessness, and mass incarceration in the United States cannot be decoupled from the legacy of centuries of systemic racism. People of color, particularly Black, Latinx, and Native American people, are much more likely to experience homelessness and interact with the criminal legal system than White people. We need transformations in both the criminal and juvenile legal systems and housing system to ensure that people are no longer criminalized for existing, and that they have the resources they need to protect their rights and dignity.
As the movement for racial justice in policing and in broader communities continues to create opportunities for rethinking unjust and inequitable systems, homelessness must be part of those policy conversations. The Law Center is happy to offer several new fact sheets on the intersection of race, homelessness, and the criminal and juvenile legal systems to help advocates make these links, support them with evidence, and engage actively in current discussions around divesting from law enforcement and investing in housing- and service-based solutions to homelessness.
Media and Narrative-Building on Homelessness During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the value of housing, as staying home has become a literal matter of life-or-death. As the moratorium on eviction comes to an end, a new consciousness is emerging that anyone may become homeless. Although this understanding is at the forefront of issues among Americans, counter-messaging of derogatory narratives, stoking fears–based on racist and classist stereotypes, is on the rise as well.
The Law Center recently held a webinar discussing these topics with leading experts in the field, which has received rave reviews from the close to 700 attendees, and we encourage everyone to view the recording.
Additionally, Community Change, Race Forward, and PolicyLink recently released public opinion research on housing messaging at housingnarrative.org. This site offers lessons and narrative tools from housing and racial justice partners and allies, government staff, and philanthropy who are working for housing justice — including affordable housing, renter’s rights, ending homelessness, and other policies that ensure homes for all. This complements earlier polling and research by the Moms 4 Housing, Data for Progress, and the Justice Collaborative Institute finding the majority of Californians support the concept of amending the California constitution to establish a fundamental human right to housing.
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
Search for Law Center’s Next Executive Director
As you may have seen in her message to the Law Center community, Founder and Executive Director Maria Foscarinis will be stepping down from the role of Executive Director later this year. Our Board of Directors has formed a Search Committee and has retained LeaderFit, a national executive search firm based in DC with a successful record of executive placements in the national legal, advocacy, and social justice sectors.
This transition will allow Maria to share her expertise and continue working toward ending and preventing homelessness: she is working on a book about national advocacy on homelessness and has been awarded a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to work on it. She will also continue teaching at Columbia Law School, where she has been on the adjunct faculty for the past three years. The Law Center is incredibly grateful for Maria’s 31 years of leadership as Executive Director, and we hope you will join us in honoring her legacy in the coming months.
In the meantime, the search for a new Executive Director is live! Please share the position with your networks or consider applying! All inquiries should be directed to Shaina Amaya at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Name, Same Vision
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is becoming the National Homelessness Law Center! We are simplifying and streamlining our name, but our mission remains the same: to use the power of the law to end and prevent homelessness in America.
By updating our name, we bring the national crisis of homelessness to the forefront. While we still view homelessness as an extreme form of poverty, we drop the word “poverty” from our name knowing we have achieved national consensus on this point. Our vision is still of a world where the human right to housing is a reality for all.
To keep this easy for our incredible supporters, our tax information also remains the same. Checks, gifts of stock, and wire transfers made out to our old name—as well as our new name—will be accepted by our bank. In the coming months, our website and email domain, as well as our social media handles, will change. But rest assured that you will know long before that process begins.
Simplifying and shortening our name has been a long-held goal of our founder Maria Foscarinis, and we are thrilled to bring it to fruition.
Changing Laws. Changing Lives.
The National Homelessness Law Center (previously the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty) 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.