2019 State Index on Youth Homelessness Webinar Highlights
The Law Center and True Colors United released the 2019 State Index on Youth Homelessness this month. This is the second consecutive year that we have come together to evaluate all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness, and to make recommendations for reform.
The Index is an important resource for policymakers looking to improve their states’ response to youth homelessness and a critical tool for advocates to hold their states accountable. After we released our first Index, Douglas Argue, of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, said:
“The State Index On Youth Homelessness has been tremendously beneficial …This tool has given us the ability to see, in one place, how several different systems and policies are impacting the vital work being done to get our youth off the streets and into stable, long-term housing. Additionally, it has given us a reliable gauge to assess the advocacy needed to improve the state’s response to homeless youth and a solid source of information to learn from states that are currently more successful.”
On February 5, 2020, authors Brandy Ryan of the Law Center and Dylan Waguespack of True Colors United, joined by Amanda Clifford, Chair of the Policy Committee of the National Youth Forum on Homelessness, hosted a webinar to discuss this year’s findings as well as strategies that advocates and state officials can use to advance the policies recommended by the State Index.
Over 160 individuals from across the country tuned in to learn how to end the cycle of homelessness and increase youth’s prospects for a brighter future. We were pleased that 96% of attendees plan to use the information in the future. The webinar is archived and available here.
Judge Overturns Conviction for Delivery of Food and Water to Homeless Migrants
In an important, precedent-setting case, a federal judge on February 4, 2020, found that four volunteers should not have been criminally prosecuted by the federal government and convicted by a magistrate for leaving food and water for migrants in the desert. Judge Rosemary Marquez of the US District Court in Arizona held that the work was an expression of the volunteers’ deeply-held religious beliefs, as the project was part of a ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
The judge found that the federal government’s efforts to prevent this exercise of beliefs violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; The judge rejected the apparent “gruesome” argument by the government that the denial of food and water would result in more deaths and thus discourage others from crossing the border. The judge noted that 32 sets of human remains were found in 2017 alone in the area where the food distribution took place. The volunteers were represented pro bono by the Washington, DC office of O’Melveny & Myers as well as local counsel in Arizona.
The case has significance for efforts to curb the distribution of food to homeless people, as has been done by cities across the country—at least where the action is motivated by religious belief. It is similar to a successful challenge brought by the Law Center and pro bono partner Akin Gump in Dallas, Texas, where more than 7,000 homeless residents struggle with hunger every day. Thanks to that suit, Big Heart Ministries v. City of Dallas, unfair city laws and policies that prevented private, charitable organizations from providing food to them as part of their religious mission were invalidated.
Favorable Settlement of Challenge to “Sweeps” in Pierce County, WA
Last month, the Law Center and our pro bono partner Perkins Coie reached a settlement agreement with Pierce County, Washington, in Boyle v. Puyallup et al., a lawsuit challenging the seizure and destruction of six homeless people’s property during sweeps of their camps. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Pierce County enacted a formal County encampment clean-up policy providing advance written notice and free property storage to people living outside, and also paid monetary damages to plaintiffs. Previously in the case, plaintiffs accepted an offer of judgment against the City of Puyallup, another defendant, for monetary damages and proof of a citywide policy also requiring notice and property storage.
New lawsuit filed in in Montgomery, AL
This month, the Law Center filed a lawsuit to stop the City of Montgomery and the State of Alabama from enforcing unconstitutional state laws criminalizing begging for help. The case, Singleton v. City of Montgomery, filed along with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU of Alabama, is brought on behalf of people like Ricky Vickery—a man who has been repeatedly jailed for begging, often by simply holding a sign saying, “homeless and hungry.” Along with the complaint, Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of Alabama’s begging bans on First Amendment free speech grounds.