During late spring and early summer, the Civil Rights Project has been actively advocating against criminalization and pursuing constructive solutions to homelessness through public education, litigation, community partnerships, and technical assistance.
On the public education front, Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis appeared as a guest on the Fox News show, Hannity and Colmes, in April 2002. Ms. Foscarinis argued in favor of the rights of college students to feed homeless people in a West Palm Beach, FL park without harassment from city officials and police. During the interview, Ms. Foscarinis discussed the availability of constructive alternatives to criminalizing such acts and stressed the need for such humane feeding programs while hunger needs are still unmet in this country.
In addition, trainings concerning the legal trends and constructive alternatives surrounding criminalization of homelessness were presented at the Law Center?s Institute on July 17 and the American Bar Association annual conference on August 9, both in Washington, DC. The Project has also prepared legal memorandums on the current state of anti-panhandling and camping laws in the U.S. for use by attorneys in their advocacy against criminalization.
As part of its ongoing participation with the Florida Coalition for the Homeless criminalization workgroup, the Civil Rights Project assisted in the editing of a legal information factsheet regarding the case of City of Miami v. Pottinger, a landmark case that resulted in preventing the City of Miami from arresting any homeless individual without first offering a shelter bed instead. The Project also gave input while the City of West Palm Beach began to develop a police protocol policy governing interactions with homeless individuals.
On the litigation front, the Law Center learned of the victorious decision in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, et al v. City of New York. This March, the Law Center had submitted an amicus brief in this case supporting the Plaintiff?s position that homeless people invited by the Church to sleep on its steps should be permitted to do so without police harassment or arrest. In June, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Homeless people will be able to sleep on the stairs of the church until the case is ultimately resolved.
More recently, the Law Center filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case, Currier, et al v. Henderson, et al. The case concerns the right of homeless people in Seattle, Washington, to receive free post office boxes within their zip code area since the United States Postal Service (USPS) offers such services to other similarly situated patrons. The Law Center?s brief focused on the USPS?s legal obligation to provide mail access to all, including those without homes, and the particularly egregious effects for homeless persons that result when USPS fails to fulfill this obligation. No date for an oral argument has been set.
On the legal advocacy front, this spring, Phillip Mangano, head of the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, met with staff at the Law Center to discuss how the two organizations could effectively work together. In the future, the Law Center looks forward to the exchange of mutually beneficial information that can aid in advocacy efforts. In June, the Civil Rights Project met with the International Association of Police Chiefs to begin a partnership aimed towards assisting the law enforcement community in seeking out and utilizing constructive alternatives and solutions to homelessness and moving away from criminalization practices. The Project hopes to have trainings and discussions with law enforcement officers through the IACP?s year-round conferences. Also in June, Civil Rights Staff Attorney Pallavi Rai traveled to southern Florida and met with advocates and police officials in order to gather information on constructive approaches that each city has taken in order to move away from arrest and jailing of homeless persons on the streets. Information collected from these meetings was shared with advocates and government officials at subsequent training sessions.
The Civil Rights Project continues to offer legal information to advocates, homeless persons, attorneys and government officials regarding criminalization and constructive alternatives. Many individuals have sought the assistance of the Law Center on such issues. For example, technical assistance offered by NLCHP?s Civil Rights Project this July resulted in the successful altering of local legislation in Brevard County, Florida. The Project sent County Commissioners a detailed letter outlining its concerns regarding a proposed ordinance that originally would have banned sleeping on all public county property. Due to this action and other strong organizing efforts by local and state-level advocates, county commissioners toned down the final ordinance passed so that no arrest can be made without the offering of a shelter bed instead. In addition, the sleeping ban was restricted to unincorporated areas in the county and commissioners are exploring the possibility of setting aside camping areas for homeless persons. While the final resolution was not ideal, the ordinance passed was significantly improved over the original proposal and demonstrated that advocates can be successful in shifting the opinions and attitudes of a community towards compassion and away from criminalization.
In the coming months, the Civil Rights Project will continue these methods of advocacy as well as develop more materials for our section of the NLCHP website. Keep in mind, purchasing an annual NLCHP membership (to obtain access to all publications and web site materials) is more economical than buying the civil rights report package separately.
From the Desk of the Executive Director
Dear Law Center Friends
July 22, 2002, marked the 15th anniversary of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation to address homelessness.
Fifteen years ago, against high odds, the bill that became the McKinney Act won large bi-partisan majorities in Congress. President Reagan, who believed that homelessness should be addressed by charities, not the federal government, reluctantly signed the bill into law. Congress appropriated some $350 million for the first year.
The new Act was intended to be a first step, to ?meet the critically urgent needs? of homeless people. It was to be followed by steps to prevent and end homelessness by addressing its underlying causes, such as the lack of affordable housing.
Since 1987, the McKinney Act has, in fact, met the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of homeless people. It has saved lives. And it has grown, to over $1.3 billion in current funding. But fifteen years later, it remains the only major federal response to homelessness.
The Bush Administration has made a commitment to ending ?chronic homelessness? in ten years, and has reactivated the Interagency Council on the Homeless?an independent agency created by the McKinney Act?to lead its efforts. This commitment is an important turning point.
Fulfilling it will require money?much more than the $35 million that the Administration has committed to date. And making it truly significant will require expanding it beyond the mentally disabled individuals who constitute the ?chronic? homeless population to include families and children.
The Law Center?s work focuses on legal strategies to end homelessness: opening access to ?mainstream? benefits?such as education, food stamps, SSI, EIC?that should be helping homeless people but that instead often keep them out. This summer, we sponsored our first national training institute to arm those working on the front lines--service providers, advocates and lawyers--with the tools they need to help their clients get benefits they are entitled to and need.
In the months ahead, we will be adding to our legal strategies to end homelessness. This is an exciting time for our advocacy: the new attention and commitment to solutions to homelessness is an important opportunity to move forward, and to press for true solutions that lift all Americans out of homelessness?and make good on the promise made fifteen years ago.
NLCHP Aids Oregon Resident In Quest To Prevent Brother From Becoming Homeless
Provides Assistance On SSI Benefits, Food Stamps and Housing
The Income Project at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty focuses on issues relating to the receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, TANF (welfare), and other public benefits by homeless people. Recently, NLCHP assisted a woman and her brother as they steered themselves through the process of locating housing and applying for much-needed public benefits. Shelly, who recently located her brother after a forty-year separation, only to find him on the brink of homelessness, contacted the Law Center.
The last time Shelly and Richard were together was in foster care when they were both under 12 years of age. In an effort to reunite her family, Shelly?a resident of Oregon?began a nationwide search for her brother. When she located him through the help of the Salvation Army, Richard was about to be evicted from his apartment in Michigan. He had lost his part-time job at UHAUL and did not have the means to pay his rent.
Shelly, a nurse who spent her career as a rape crisis counselor, was familiar with emergency situations but unfamiliar with government programs designed to prevent homelessness. Unsure about federal benefits programs and other social services, Shelly contacted the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. NLCHP Staff Attorney Jeremy Rosen provided Shelly with information on how to check the status of a Social Security Income (SSI) claim and apply for food stamps. Shelly recounts her experience after finding the Law Center on the Internet: ?I then emailed a letter to you all and got a rapid response. Jeremy actually called me a few days later. He was very supportive and made me feel that I could do this. He gave me the different agencies that I could go to plus the national and local Social Security department numbers.?
Shelly arranged for her brother to move from Michigan to Oregon. She also contacted Disability Services in Toledo, Oregon and used the Internet to place her brother?s name on their housing waiting list. Soon after Richard arrived, they went to the local food stamp office and Richard received Medicaid and food stamps within three days.
Shelly then contacted her local Social Security office. Richard had applied for SSI back in Michigan but had not kept up with the appointments. Shelly was able to supplement his initial application with records that she tracked down. She contacted Richard?s high school to obtain records to prove that he never completed the academic requirements for a degree. She also obtained a copy of his military discharge papers, which indicated that after sixty days of basic training he was found unqualified for military service. Finally, Shelly located medical records from her brother?s foster care. All of this information established proof of Richard?s disability and need for SSI.
The wait for supportive housing in Toledo is normally three months, but after Shelly explained the entire story, the caseworker assured her that she would try to process the case as quickly as possible. Nine weeks later, there was a spot available for Richard in an apartment about a mile away from Shelly?s home. The SSI claim had not been fully processed, so Shelly and her husband provided Richard with the money for the down payment and the first month?s rent.
As a result of Shelly?s hard work combined with the technical assistance of NLCHP staff, Richard is now settled in his own apartment and has been determined eligible for SSI. He received $3,200 in retroactive benefits - granted from the date of his original SSI application from Michigan. Every month, Richard receives $135 of food stamps and $643 in SSI. With his retroactive SSI check, he and Shelly were able to furnish his apartment. According to Richard, this is the first time in his life that he has ?had it so nice.?
Shelly successfully navigated through the public benefits system in order for Richard to avoid homelessness. ?My brother needed an advocate to keep after the system,? she reflects. ?You kind of have to bug them ? then it works.?
Law Center staff monitor nationwide activity affecting the access of homeless people to benefits, and devise legal and policy strategies to ensure that Federal and state agencies take affirmative steps to help more homeless people receive the income assistance to which they are entitled. For more information about the Law Center?s Income Project or about public benefits programs in general,
contact Jeremy Rosen at 202-638-2535 x207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*In this article, the names of the people NLCHP assisted were changed for privacy reasons.
Legal Advocacy On The Road For Homeless Children and Youth
Education Project Takes McKinney-Vento Act To Schools, Shelters and Attorneys
Our Education Attorney hit the road this spring to train educators, service providers and attorneys on the requirements of the new McKinney-Vento Act. From Seattle to Tampa, Arizona to Maine, we discussed legal responsibilities and shared implementation and advocacy strategies. Many of these trainings were conducted in collaboration with other groups, including the U.S. Department of Education, the National Center on Homeless Education, the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Migrant Legal Action Program. To supplement the trainings, the Law Center collaborated with four other national organizations to produce a series of issue briefs about the new law. Those briefs, as well as other fact sheets and resources, can be downloaded for free from our web site.
As part of a special effort to educate attorneys about the McKinney-Vento Act, our education attorney recently had an article published in the Children?s Legal Rights Journal, and has written pieces for upcoming publication by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Bar Association. Of course, with 50 states and 15,000 school districts, the Law Center can?t get the word out alone. For advocates interested in leading their own trainings on the McKinney-Vento Act, a complete training packet is also available from our web site, including overhead transparencies and vignettes that allow training participants to apply the law to hypothetical situations.
The Law Center will continue our training efforts in the fall, with presentations in New England and California. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth will hold its annual conference October 5-8 in Los Angeles. Our education attorney will be leading or co-leading five workshops at the conference, including sessions on: the McKinney-Vento Act generally; special education and other federal laws that can affect students in homeless situations; enforcing the McKinney-Vento Act; and funding issues. Anyone interested in attending this exciting and important conference should visit www.naehcy.org/conf.html.
In addition to our training efforts, the Law Center remains focused on legislative and administrative advocacy. Final regulations on Title I, the federal education law designed to eliminate the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students, contained our recommendations that students experiencing homelessness be included in assessment and accountability systems. These regulations will help ensure that the access to school guaranteed by the McKinney-Vento Act will also lead to success in school for children and youth. The regulations can be accessed from the U.S. Department of Education?s web site or by contacting the Law Center. Our advocacy on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Head Start will continue into next year.
For more information or assistance with any issues regarding the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness, contact NLCHP Education Staff Attorney Patricia Julianelle at email@example.com or (202) 638-2535.
Great Strides Made Toward Improved Policies On SSI Benefits
Income Project Continues Focusing Its Advocacy On SSA, HHS, Other Agencies' Efforts
The Income Project is pleased to announce several important accomplishments over the past several months. These developments will help ensure that more eligible homeless persons are able to receive the SSI, food stamps, and other public benefits that they need to help them access housing and services.
The Project has worked with staff from the Senate Appropriations Committee, to have $8 million dollars from the Social Security Administration?s (SSA?s) 2003 research budget dedicated to SSI outreach and application assistance demonstration grants. If the funding is preserved in the House, and signed by the President, these funds will be available through a competitive grant program, sometime after October 1, 2002. If approved, the grants could be used to benefit any population considered to be ?underserved? by the SSI program. However, homeless persons were the only example of an underserved group listed in the Senate report language, and the Law Center expects SSA to award many of the grants to groups proposing innovative projects to serve people who are homeless.
The Project continues to work with SSA, and with the Interagency Council on Homelessness, to shape the content of SSA?s homelessness plan, which is a result of the Law Center?s advocacy last fall. This plan, designed to spell out SSA?s commitment to provide improved service to homeless persons, is expected to be presented to Congress no later than September 30, 2002. The Law Center expects the plan to contain some important general goals for SSA, but we recognize that additional advocacy will be necessary, in order to ensure that the plan is properly implemented.
The Law Center is moving forward with its work on a manual, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, designed to walk case managers and other non-attorney homeless program staff through the process of assisting homeless persons in applying for SSI benefits. We expect the manual to be released this fall. Once released, the manual will be available at no cost, from our web site: www.nlchp.org. Printed copies will also be available, at a cost to be determined. More information about the manual will be provided as the release date nears.
More recently, the Law Center filed amicus briefs in two important cases. The first, in Seattle, challenged a U.S. Postal Service decision not to provide free P.O boxes to homeless persons without addresses who are unable to receive carrier delivery service. The second, in California, is an effort to require the California state agency that makes initial and reconsideration disability determinations in SSI cases to comply with SSA laws and regulations in processing claims filed by homeless persons. The lawsuit also seeks to compel SSA to perform better oversight of the state agency. The specific issue in the case is whether or not the agency is properly evaluating medical records of homeless persons, prior to scheduling those SSI applicants for medical examinations with SSA doctors.
The Income Project has also conducted several recent trainings. In July, Staff Attorney Jeremy Rosen attended the National Health Care for the Homeless Council?s annual conference in Chicago, where he presented two training sessions on SSI. Next, Mr. Rosen provided a SSA policy update at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in Washington, D.C. Later in the month, Mr. Rosen presented two additional trainings at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) Substantive Law Conference in Colorado Springs. After that conference, Mr. Rosen held a training session for over 50 members of community groups in Denver. The session was followed up by a meeting with several state and local policymakers from Colorado.
Please note that the Income Project has several new materials available. To accompany our SSI fact sheet, the Project now has a detailed SSI brochure, a food stamp brochure, and a food stamp fact sheet. The Law Center also has a policy paper analyzing recent food stamp program policy changes that affect homeless persons. These materials, and more, are all available on the Law Center?s web site.
Finally, the Income Project welcomes Sara Simon, our new Equal Justice Works fellow. Sara, a recent graduate of the University of Houston Law School, will join the Law Center in early September, to focus on increasing access to food stamps for homeless persons. Sara?s arrival will increase the efforts of the Income Project, and allow us to do even more critically important advocacy.
NLCHP Training Institute A Success
Many Participated in "Legal Strategies to End Homelessness"
Forty participants from over 20 different states attended our July 17th training institute, ?Legal Strategies to End Homelessness.? The majority of those in attendance were service providers?accompanied by attorneys that offer legal services to homeless persons, local government employees and fellow advocates.
NLCHP?s full day of training commenced with presentations from our Income Project. Participants had a dynamic discussion on various aspects of public benefits available to homeless and low-income families and individuals. Over one-third of our participants had previously attempted to obtain Supplemental Security Income benefits for their homeless clients, yet many of them still had questions regarding the process of application.
Additionally, several very important questions were raised about food stamps?including whether or not they are ?time-limited?. NLCHP Public Benefits Staff Attorney Jeremy Rosen answered many questions and referred them to our federal agency guest panelists later in the day. The final topic covered during the institute?s session on public benefits was the Earned Income Tax Credit. About 75% of our participants were aware of EITC, but very few knew how to help their clients file for the credit. NLCHP Deputy Director Laurel Weir walked everyone through steps that may be taken to provide a free tax clinic for homeless and low-income workers. Many participants were interested in this process and remarked that they would assist people with filing in the future.
The next presentation focused on homeless children?s rights to public education and the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Act: changes in the law, its implementation and strategies for advocacy. NLCHP Education Staff Attorney Patricia Julianelle discussed with participants the barriers that homeless children and youth face; ways to break through those obstacles; key provisions in the law regarding unaccompanied youth and preschool children; strategies for getting children enrolled and getting access transportation; and what is meant by ?school of origin?. She also addressed the issue of segregating homeless students and other objectionable practices affected by the McKinney-Vento Act. Many participants expressed the difficulties they have had in the past with trying to enroll homeless students. Ms Julianelle provided them with the tools and materials they needed to understand this process.
After lunch, our institute reconvened with a presentation on trends and alternatives surrounding the criminalization of homelessness. NLCHP Civil Rights Staff Attorney Pallavi Rai discussed numerous laws enacted by over 40 cities that criminalize homelessness. She offers methods of combating such regulations, including litigation; constructive alternatives; legal advocacy; and initiatives with solutions that address the root causes of homelessness.
Our last presentation of the day covered how to obtain the use of federal surplus property, according to the Title V program of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Once again, Ms. Weir guided participants through a process mandated by federal law. She discussed how non-profit organizations might obtain vacant federal properties?at no cost?for the use of assisting homeless persons. The attendees, especially service providers, greatly appreciated the information Ms. Weir imparted during this part of the session. She provided them with fact sheets, contacts and a sample ?notice of interest? to obtain property.
Following the trainings and discussions, two panels were available for questions at the end of the day. Our Federal Agency Guest Panel included representatives from:
Dept. of Education, Education of Homeless Children & Youth Project
Dept. of Agriculture, Child Nutrition Service
Dept. of Agriculture, Food Stamps Program Development Division
Social Security Administration, Division of Representative Payment
Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing & Civil Enforcement Section
These individuals were happy to answer questions regarding the difficulties in applying for public benefits and enrolling homeless students. They also provided insight on how legislation may be used to combat discriminatory circumstances homeless persons face when attempting to locate housing.
To close the day, NLCHP offered a panel of additional resources that participants could consult in their efforts to assist homeless and low-income families and individuals. Representatives from the American Bar Association and the National Coalition for the Homeless, as well as a pro bono coordination from a major law firm, explained the types of services they offer and the ways in which they could help those in the field.
Participants were very pleased and excited to have been involved in the full-day institute. They expressed their gratitude saying they now ?have a great deal of information to take? with them and share! Additionally, they plan to use the tools NLCHP staff attorneys gave them to ?enroll children in schools more quickly and effectively,? and ?locate possible sites for new shelter,? as well as many other activities in their communities. Participants also appreciated being able to address representatives from federal agencies: ?The panel guests at the end of the day provided a great deal of additional information. Knowledge is powerful ammunition?thank you!?
Training materials may be purchased for $15.00 by mailing your check made payable to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and including a memo requesting our, ?Legal Strategies to End Homelessness? Training Packet.
NLCHP Participates In 2002 Help the Homeless Walk-A-Thon
Get Involved and Show Your Support!
The Help the Homeless Walk-a-thon developed by the Fannie Mae Foundation to help agencies that focus on ending homeless will be held Saturday, November 23, 2002 on the Mall in Washington, DC. This year, the Foundation developed a competitive process that selected only 175 agencies rather than the 218 they had last year. The main criteria was to find agencies that have implemented programs that work and affect a large number of homeless people. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty was chosen to participate!
There are several ways that you can help the NLCHP at the Walk-a-thon:
ONE?Register as a walker and designate NLCHP. Simply fill out a registration form, designate NLCHP and mail or fax the form with $25 if an adult or $15 for youth (up to 25 years of age). After September 3rd but prior to November 10, 2002 you may register on-line at www.helpthehomelessdc.org. REMEMBER TO DESIGNATE THE NATIONAL LAW CENTER ON HOMELESSNESS & POVERTY!
TWO?Get people, clubs, etc. to sponsor you in the walk. Simply sign up names and amounts on your walker form. Forms can be requested from the National Law Center or downloaded from www.helpthehomelessdc.org after September 3, 2002.
THREE?Arrange for your employer, civic club, church group, book club, etc. to be an event Partner. There are several levels of partnership and all levels get their name on promotional material for the walk. Remember to tell them to designate the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. All partnership dollars go to those designated.
DON'T FORGET?If you want to walk or volunteer but November 23, 2002 at the Mall in Washington, DC is not a good time or place, there are several community walks scheduled to happen in Virginia and Maryland during the month of October. You will still need to register and pay the fee of $25 adult and $15 youth.
Please contact the Development Office at the National Law Center at 202-638-2535 ext 212, if you have any questions, need walker registration forms, corporate or club partnership commitment forms, or want to participate in one of the community walks. This is a great time to show your commitment to preventing and ending homelessness.
Support the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty at the Help the Homeless Walk-a-thon on November 23, 2002.
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