“Homelessness is a disgrace.” As someone who has spent over three decades working to end homelessness in America, I couldn’t agree more with this recent statement from President Trump. But the ideas under consideration for addressing it, outlined in a new white paper from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, are deeply concerning.
Homelessness is a crisis, not just in California, where the President seems to be focusing his attention, but across the country. Steep increases in housing costs coupled with stagnant incomes and a weak social safety net are driving it. Federal funding for subsidized housing, meant to fill gaps in the private market, has been slashed over the past decades, with additional cuts proposed by the current administration. There are also few sufficient emergency shelters, leaving many to struggle to survive in public places. According to the Law Center’s most recent report on the topic, encampments increased by over 1,300% over the past decade.
In response, cities around the country have “cracked down,” criminally punishing people for living outside even though they have no alternatives. The Law Center and our allies have fought against this trend since our inception—and we are now finally making real progress. City and law enforcement officials are increasingly recognizing that criminalizing homelessness is ineffective, counterproductive, expensive—and potentially unconstitutional. Housing solves homelessness—effectively and cost-effectively—not punishment. That’s why many have joined us and advocates around the country in our call for Housing Not Handcuffs.
But now, the Trump Administration is promoting such discredited approaches, threatening this hard won progress. We and others are working to fight this and to build support for real solutions. Follow us on social media to keep up with the latest fast changing developments.
And as always, thank you for your support. It is now more critical than ever.
Founder & Executive Director
Law Center to oppose petition to Supreme Court hearing on Martin v. Boise case
Following the Ninth Circuit’s April Martin v. Boise ruling in favor of the Law Center and its partners, Idaho Legal Aid Services and Latham & Watkins, the city of Boise filed its petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court on August 22. This petition asked the high court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and the Law Center and its partners now have until October 25 to respond.
The core of the Ninth Circuit’s holding is that “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
While the Law Center will reserve its legal arguments for its formal filing, we know that as a policy matter, housing, not handcuffs, is the best way to end homelessness. No one wants to see encampments of people forced to live on the streets and alleys of our cities. But contrary to the city’s argument that it needs criminalization as a “tool” for the preservation of public health and safety, cities in fact have a broad range of constructive tools available to them to solve and mitigate the harms of homelessness; criminalization only makes things worse, not better. When communities actually end homelessness, they will find they do not need laws forbidding people to sleep on their streets; no one will need to sleep there.
The Law Center will file its response with the Court in October, and in the meantime, calls on its allies to hold up the positive examples of communities working constructively to end homelessness without the need for criminalization.
HNH Justice Network Member Achieves Settlement Clarifying Martin v. Boise
A recent court settlement in Orange County, California, was made possible by a member of the HNH Justice Network, Carol Sobel. The settlement not only provided assistance to the in-need people Sobel was representing, but helped establish clearer guidance for what the 9th Circuit ruling in Martin v. Boise means in practice.
Initially, the case was brought to stop the eviction of an 800-person encampment, a group which was able to be brought into shelter and housing through the efforts involved in their defense. To prevent the recurrence of events like the eviction that started off the case, this settlement was developed and in part influenced by the Law Center’s case in Martin and our amicus submission. Under the settlement, not only must adequate shelter space must be provided before any anti-camping laws are enforced, but people experiencing homelessness must be allowed to consult with county health care, social workers or county-contracted service providers as well.
The Law Center congratulates Sobel for her amazing work on the case, and hopes the settlement will help Orange County in their work to end homelessness in a constructive manner.
NEWS from the LAW CENTER
The Law Center Welcomes New Arrivals
The Law Center would like to introduce our new staff members and fellows. First, we have Brandy Ryan, the Law Center’s new Staff Attorney. She has previously worked with the Law Center as an intern and post-grad fellow, working on housing policy in the Violence Against Women Act and several research projects and toolkits benefitting homeless youth. Brandy will continue in law and policy work as she joins our litigation team.
We’ve hired Karianna Barr as the Director of Development and Communications. She supports the team to ensure everyone in the United States has access to safe and secure housing. Before joining the Law Center, Karianna had the privilege of fighting unjust systems by working with national wealth-building organization Prosperity Now, public boarding school system The SEED Foundation, and integrated service provider Inspiration Corporation, and she has over a decade of experience in hospitality.
Also joining the Communication and Development team is Crys Letona. Crys serves as the Communications Associate at the Law Center, where she utilizes communication tools and media outlets to initiate conversations around decriminalizing homelessness. She was previously a policy intern for the Law Center and received her B.S. summa cum laude in communication and rhetorical studies, policy studies, and women’s and gender studies from Syracuse University.
Last but not least, Rajan Bal joins the Law Center’s law and policy team as the Housing Not Handcuffs Campaign Manager. Rajan graduated from the Georgetown University Law Center in May 2019, and his time at the Law Center is made possible by a fellowship from the University. During law school, Rajan advocated for underprivileged youth in the D.C. delinquency system as a student attorney for the Georgetown University Juvenile Justice Clinic. Rajan has otherwise focused on various aspects of criminal law and hopes to use his legal training to promote the public interest.
The 2018 Law Center’s Annual Report Now Available
Have you seen our 2018 Annual Report yet? The Law Center is pleased to share the many victories 2018 brought, and we want to ensure that you can share in all our achievements. We could not accomplish all we did in 2018 and all that we continue to do without you! Check out our 2018 Annual Report here.
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.