|From Maria's Desk|
It's a busy time at the Law Center and for our allies and partners across the country. And while we're facing -- and fighting -- new draconian policies and cuts, we are also achieving victories, as you'll read about below. These include an important federal appeals court decision striking down a St. Petersburg law that punishes people for sleeping and living in public when they have nowhere else to go.
Meanwhile, homeless people are being joined in parks and other public places by the legions participating in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. Unlike homeless people, the protesters don't have to camp out -- they're choosing to.
The Occupiers' message is still somewhat amorphous, but it's clear they believe income inequality has reached unacceptable levels, and that unemployment is causing poverty and suffering for too many people. The protesters may not have to live their lives in public yet, but if present trends continue, more and more will. That's one important truth illuminated by this convergence of protest and need on streets across the country.
We need to acknowledge another truth too: as people with homes occupy parks, it's time for homeless people to occupy vacant buildings. I'm not talking about illegal takeovers. Rather, we are advocating for public policies that allow unused property -- including surplus federal property -- to be used for that purpose. Recently, the federal government solicited proposals on how to dispose of the 100,000 single-family homes it owns. The Law Center, the National Housing Law Project, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition responded with joint comments arguing that any plan for disposing of the properties should prioritize affordable housing on a rental basis, opening up currently vacant homes to low-income tenants. The Law Center is also continuing to fend off Congressional attacks on the Title V program.
You can join us by contacting HUD at (202) 708-1112, or by asking your member of Congress to support using federal properties to help put homeless people into homes. To find out how to contact your Congressional representative, click here. And in the meantime, spread the word about our win in St. Petersburg. People without housing shouldn't be punished just for being outside.
That's one message brought home by the Occupy movement.
|Progress Made During Domestic Violence Awareness Month |
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Law Center and its partners have stayed busy. Earlier this month, before the United Nations General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo delivered her report evaluating U.S. policies for preventing and responding to violence against women. This follows Ms. Manjoo's fact-finding visit to the U.S. in January 2011, where she met with advocates and domestic and sexual violence survivors from across the country. The Law Center prepared briefing papers for the rapporteur on the link between domestic violence and homelessness and presented her with recommendations for ensuring survivors and their children maintain stable housing. Those briefing papers, along with those presented by other advocates, were published earlier this month and are available here.
Among Ms. Manjoo's recommendations to the U.S. were those put forth by the Law Center, including expanding the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to protect domestic violence survivors living in privately owned housing. The rapporteur's support couldn't come at a better time. The Law Center is currently working with Members of Congress to introduce legislation that would reauthorize VAWA for an additional five years, and is strongly advocating that its protections be extended beyond public housing.
|Law Center and Yum! Brands Team Up to Fight Hunger
The Law Center has joined forces with Yum! Brands, the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC), and the Western Center on Law & Poverty to promote wider adoption of the Restaurant Meals Program (RMP), which allows homeless, disabled, and elderly SNAP recipients to use their benefits at restaurants. The program is an important effort to ensure homeless people are able to access the food they need to survive, particularly if they are unsheltered and not regularly receiving meals.
The RMP is an optional feature of SNAP left to the discretion of state governments. To date, only three states have opted in: California, Arizona, and Michigan. As part of their campaign to promote the program, the Law Center and its partners recently released a short video explaining the RMP's importance and urging wider adoption. The video features Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis and interviews with homeless people, restaurant owners, government officials, and hunger advocates.
Click here to view the video and learn more about the program.
|Federal Court Rules Criminalization Lawsuit May Proceed
In St. Petersburg, Florida, the Law Center has won a victory in its continuing fight against the criminalization of homelessness. The 11th Circuit Court ruled that the Law Center, Southern Legal Counsel, and Florida Institutional Legal Services can proceed with their challenge of a local trespassing ordinance that has removed homeless people from public spaces.
The situation in St. Petersburg is an egregious example of a troubling national trend: cities are making it illegal to be homeless The suit alleges that the City has used the ordinance to ban homeless people from public parks, as well as surrounding sidewalks and bus stops, by issuing trespassing warnings. Under the ordinance, there is no avenue to challenge a warning without risking arrest. This raises serious concerns about homeless people's rights to due process and freedom of movement.
By ruling that the suit can go forward, the 11th Circuit has set an important national precedent for similar cases across the country. This further establishes the Law Center as one of the nation's most effective leaders against the criminalization of homelessness.
|Administration Shows Support for Human Right to Housing
For years, the Law Center has been a leading advocate for implementing the human right to housing in the United States. It is happy to report that work is continuing to pay off. During last year's Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. by the United Nations, the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated for the first time that homelessness implicates its human rights obligations. And last week, in its first-year assessment and update of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness expressed its support for the UN's recommendations that more be done to safeguard the rights and dignities of homeless people and that homelessness be reduced and eventually eliminated.
These are only words, not action, but they represent a fundamental shift in policy. And as momentum continues to build, these words and values will help create a future where no one in America spends a single night without a place to call home.
|Law Center Helps Service Provider Acquire Property |
Thanks to the assistance of the Law Center, an award-winning substance abuse program for homeless people in Massachusetts will finally take ownership of the building it was awarded in 1999.
Over the past twelve years, Bay Cove Human Services of South Weymouth, MA has occupied a former Navy building that was closed pursuant to the Base Realignment and Closure Act. Bay Cove's New Hope Transitional Support Services program has provided transitional housing, intensive therapy, and other support to more than 10,000 clients since it opened its doors in 1999. But despite being promised ownership of the building, New Hope paid rent as a tenant for over a decade. During that period, a series of temporary leases and changing landlords left the program in legal limbo.
Finally, in January 2010, New Hope contacted the Law Center for help. Working closely with New Hope staff and Bay Cove leadership, the Law Center successfully completed negotiations for the property. This month, Bay Cove will finally become the owner of the building that has housed its program for so many years. According to New Hope Director Peter Collins: "we have the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty to thank for that."
|Deadline to Apply for Property at Walter Reed is Nov. 18
As we reported in last month's In Just Times, five additional acres on the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center are available for use by homeless service providers at no cost.
State and local government agencies, homeless service providers, and other interested parties have until 3 p.m. EST on November 18, 2011 to submit proposals for use of the property to the city. For more details on the application process, providers can consult the website of the redevelopment authority, or contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at: (202) 638-2535.
|Law Center to Speak at Federal Briefing on Homelessness
On November 1, the first day of National Homelessness Awareness Month, Law Center Executive Director Maria Foscarinis will speak at a federal briefing held by the Campaign to End Child Homelessness. Joining HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, as well as fellow advocates, Foscarinis will address the dramatic increase in family homelessness last year and the need for additional federal resources to expand access to affordable housing.
To RSVP for the event, e-mail Natalie Thompson, policy director of the Campaign to End Child Homelessness.
|Law Center Welcomes New Pro Bono Coordinator |
The Law Center is proud to announce its new pro bono coordinator, Cecilia Dos Santos. She brings with her six years experience addressing poverty issues, serving most recently as legal advocacy program coordinator at Harbor Communities Overcoming Violence, where she worked to expand access to legal and safety resources for survivors of violence. She also served as intake and pro bono coordinator at Washington Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE). At the Law Center, Ms. Dos Santos oversees outreach to LEAP (Lawyers Executive Advisory Partners) members and other firms, offering meaningful pro bono opportunities to attorneys across the country and greatly expanding the Law Center's reach.
Ms. Dos Santos holds a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and International Relations from Tufts University. She is a bilingual English and Spanish speaker.