An Announcement to the Law Center Community

Dear Friends,

I’m writing with two pieces of momentous and exciting news about the Law Center’s next chapter of growth.

First, in recognition of our continued evolution and impact, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is now the National Homelessness Law Center, effectively immediately. And, after 31 years at the helm, I will be stepping down as Executive Director of the Law Center 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 and prevent homelessness in America. 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. We still believe that homelessness is unacceptable in a society that has enough for all. Our vision is still of a world where the human right to housing is a reality for all.

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 all those years 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. Since its inception, the Law Center has in turn been fortunate to benefit from a cadre of 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, the Law Center’s national stature, expertise, 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.

I feel strongly that 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 we all share and the rights we have simply by virtue of being human.  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—with our staff, board, volunteers, and funders and supporters—and I am so grateful to all of you. A timeline with highlights of our impact, created for our 30th anniversary celebration, is here. To give just a few highlights, over these past years we:

  • Set precedent establishing that homeless children have an enforceable legal right to an education, and followed it up to help ensure millions of children got it
  • Won multiple court decisions requiring federal agencies to turn over vacant properties, at no cost, to house and aid homeless people, helping some 2 million people each year
  • Required decommissioned military bases to include the needs of homeless people in redevelopment plans
  • Helped craft and get enacted federal housing rights to protect domestic violence survivors from having to choose between abuse and homelessness, affecting over four million households
  • Launched the Housing Not Handcuffs (HNH) campaign, mobilizing thousands of endorsers including advocates, law enforcement and city officials
  • Set national precedent that criminally punishing homeless people for sleeping, sitting or lying in public in the absence of alternatives is unconstitutional
  • Achieved national, mainstream political support for the human right to housing

I am optimistic about this moment and the future.  Advocacy for real change takes time—but it 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 redirecting resources away from police responses to homelessness and to housing and community supports for decades, 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. I will remain engaged with the Law Center and will 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 teaching at Columbia Law School, where I have been on the adjunct faculty for the past three years.

Our Board of Directors has formed a Search Committee and has 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 heartfelt thanks to our staff, fellows and interns, pro bono partners, and Board for your dedication to our mission, your amazing work, and your unwavering support.

Maria Foscarinis

Founder & Executive Director

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