This Black History Month comes at a time when the disproportionate racial impact of homelessness on Black communities is finally getting attention.
Black Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, 26% of the poverty population, and over 40% of the homeless population. Their overrepresentation in poverty and homelessness is the legacy of slavery, the all-encompassing horrors of Jim Crow, intentional discrimination in housing, employment, education, and a criminal legal system that has caused the unjust mass incarceration of far too many Black people. This is a legacy of injustice that continues.
In the 1980s, research clearly demonstrated the disproportionate impact of homelessness on Black and other communities of color. At the same time, and perhaps not coincidentally, racist tropes, such as Reagan’s “welfare queens,” drove policies that focused on “personal responsibility” and exacerbated institutional racism. Now, thanks to new and ongoing advocacy and broad, grass roots activism, the connection between racism and homelessness is gaining the attention it urgently needs.
Making common cause with broader movements for justice is exactly what is needed to end and prevent homelessness. Homelessness is not an individual problem caused by personal failings; it is a result of structural forces that deprive too many Americans of human rights and basic opportunities. Structural racism is a key, very powerful, force—and one that we must continue to fight.
As I prepare to transition from my role and to welcome a fantastic new Executive Director on April 1, I am proud of the Law Center’s work, including as a founding member of the National Racial Equity Working Group, to bring attention to the role of racism in driving homelessness—and to dismantle it. This month, and every month, let’s honor that work by moving it forward.
Founder & Executive Director
Settlement Reached in Groundbreaking Martin v. Boise case
On Monday, February 8, 2021, lawyers representing homeless plaintiffs and the City of Boise announced a settlement in Martin v. Boise, ending over 12 years of litigation. This settlement embodies important steps towards protecting the rights of unsheltered residents in Boise—and towards real solutions to end homelessness in the City.
The City of Boise is taking a number of historic actions toward preventing and ending homelessness. The City—amongst other actions—is updating two ordinances to protect people experiencing homelessness from being arrested, imprisoned, or fined for sleeping or camping outside if no overnight shelter is available to them.
More importantly, the City is dedicating $1.3 million in additional funds to serve Boise’s homeless community; at least one-third of which shall be committed to rehabilitating or creating additional overnight shelter space. This will help prevent the need for any enforcement of even the revised ordinances, because individuals will be safely and adequately sheltered. The parties have also agreed to continue working together to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness within the City have needed access to housing, services, and—where appropriate—medical and mental health care.
2020 State Index on Youth Homelessness
The third iteration of the State Index on Youth Homelessness is set for release later this month. A joint project of the Law Center and True Colors United, this report assesses the laws, policies, and systems that affect youth experiencing homelessness in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state is graded on over 60 metrics in these areas to give a snapshot of the experience of homeless youth and ways local advocates and lawmakers can improve their access to education, healthcare, shelter, and other rights and services. Though 2020 was a slow year for legislative progress in many states due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Index highlights progress and innovative solutions while focusing not only on raw data but also on the lived experience of homeless youth who are subject to the laws and policies assessed in the report.
This year the Index team will also launch an interactive website where people can view not only the full report, but also each state’s score, metric breakdowns, and recommendations for improvement, with other features for local service providers and advocates to come throughout the year.
President Biden’s 100 Day Priorities
Prior to President Biden’s inauguration, the Law Center published its recommended priorities to end homelessness in America for the incoming administration’s first 100 days. Since Biden took office on January 20th, he has issued a record number of executive orders overturning many of the harmful policies implemented by the Trump Administration. These actions have helped to mitigate the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the most vulnerable communities from further harm during this turbulent period.
President Biden took immediate action to prevent a wave of homelessness by extending the federal eviction moratorium to March 31, 2021. The administration has also taken the important step of directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fully reimburse cities and states for a wide range of emergency services set up during the pandemic. Not only does this ensure federal funding for individual shelter moving forward, it is also retroactive and will provide reimbursement for any funding directed at these initiatives since the beginning of the pandemic.
Additionally, Biden has taken a critical step toward ending homelessness and curbing the spread of COVID-19 with the American Rescue Plan. This plan calls for $5 billion in emergency assistance to secure housing for those at risk of or experiencing homelessness and an additional $25 billion in rental assistance to provide much-needed rental relief to low- and moderate-income households who have lost jobs or are out of the labor market.
While President Biden has already taken steps to end and prevent homelessness, there is much more work to be done in order to fulfill his campaign promise of making housing a human right for all Americans. The Law Center once again calls on the Biden Administration to prioritize ending homelessness by ending the criminalization of homelessness, creating a plan for universal access to affordable housing, and strengthening housing rights to protect poor tenants facing eviction, families and children experiencing homelessness, domestic violence survivors, and more.
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
The Law Center Names Antonia Fasanelli as New Executive Director
Last summer, the Law Center launched a national search for our next Executive Director, and we are pleased to announce that long-time friend of the organization and homeless and housing rights advocate Antonia Fasanelli has been named.
Antonia comes to the Law Center from the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP), a Maryland statewide organization headquartered in Baltimore City, where she has served as Executive Director since 2007. Prior to her role at HPRP, Antonia was an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, where she developed and led the Affordable Housing Initiative. From 1996-98, Antonia served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Law Center, an experience that inspired her to go to law school and devote her career to using the power of the law to ending and preventing homelessness.
With vast expertise and an incredible reputation in the field, Antonia will carry on the mission passed to her, stepping in as the first Executive Director after 31 years of leadership under Founder Maria Foscarinis.
The Law Center Welcomes New Board Member and Interns
Suzanne Turner was unanimously elected to the Board of the Law Center last month. She is a partner at Dechert LLP and Chair of the firm-side pro bono practice, which provides legal representation to individuals and organizations that otherwise could not afford it. Her practice involves a wide range of human rights and civil rights litigation. Throughout her career, Ms. Turner has been active in many organizations focused on access to justice and civil rights issues. Currently, Ms. Turner is co-chair of the board of PILnet and a board member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Ms. Turner is a long-time friend and supporter of the Law Center and has also served as LEAP Chair.
Steve Kennedy is a Legal Intern at the Law Center, advancing Law and Policy team initiatives extending the human right to housing at the state level. Steve brings significant state-level legislative and policy experience to the role, having served as the president of the UConn Law chapter of the People’s Parity Project, which advances the rights of workers and historically marginalized communities through legislative and policy advocacy, and as the Connecticut team leader for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has passed significant state-level legislation supporting disabled, POC, and LGBTQIA veterans.
Steve is currently a second-year evening student at the University of Connecticut School of Law while working full-time as a legal aid Community Justice Fellow and litigation law clerk. He also holds a Master of Science degree in biophysical chemistry from New York University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts- Boston.
Gaby Waksberg is a high school senior at the Madeira School in McLean, Va. She is interested in studying political science and public policy in college and hopes to go into a career of public service. Gaby is passionate about social change and works to implement change in her own community. She is excited to join the team to help in every way she can while expanding her knowledge of law.
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.