In Just Times header
News and Commentary for April 2011  
Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
In This Issue
New! 2010 Annual Report
National Forum on the Human Right to Housing
Policy Priorities for 2011
Budget Update: Critical Cuts Made
Shelter & Housing Resources in Danger - Please Help!
Congressional Briefing on Human Rights
States Accepting Applications for Emergency Loan Program
International Panel on Criminalization of Homelessness
Board Profile: Pam Malester
 From Maria's Desk     

In all the years I've been in Washington, it's never been a good time to advocate for funding that helps poor people. But that hasn't stopped us - and we've won important victories. Now, we're in an especially challenging time, with devastating cuts already part of the new budget "deal." I believe that now, more than ever, we must advocate for what we really need to end and prevent homelessness - not just in spite of this, but because of it.

 

While it's not always stated explicitly, what emerges as a priority driving the cuts is a goal to eviscerate whatever is left of the social safety net. What's worse, no countervailing alternative set of priorities is being seriously debated as part of our political process. We need to mobilize behind a different vision.

 

It's the vision our government itself acknowledged last month, when it issued its official response to recommendations made by the world community following its first ever U.N. review for compliance with human rights standards. That response explicitly stated U.S. support for "expand[ing] social protection coverage" and "reducing homelessness."  

 

It's the vision our top US official responsible for human rights, elaborating on that commitment, said meant that "this Administration will keep fighting to bring health care to more Americans, improve education to make our country more competitive, and continue to provide unemployment benefits for those who need them. Despite our budget constraints, we will continue to invest in the future of the American people."

 

These are words, but they are also commitments. We consider it our job as advocates to hold our government accountable to them. At the Law Center, we are committed to that task; our new strategic plan, finalized earlier this year, specifically states our commitment to the human right to housing.  We will continue to fight for that goal, and urge you to join us.

 

Register now for our National Forum on the Human Right to Housing June 7-8 - it's more important than ever!

What We Accomplished Together in 2010  

In 2010, with your support, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty won historic victories, laying the foundation for transformative change. We are proud to release our 2010 annual report - a summary of our programs, successes, and supporters last year. Thank you to all of our donors and partners; we couldn't do it without you!
National Forum on the Human Right to Housing

Recent polling indicates that 3/4 of Americans believe that adequate housing is a human right, and 2/3 believe that government programs need to be expanded to ensure this right. President Obama has said, "it is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours." Despite these statements, if one looks around, it is clear our ideals do not meet our reality.

 

At the 2011 National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, June 7-8 in Washington, D.C., housing advocates will convene to participate in the national conversation about how to use international human rights standards to reframe the public debate around housing and homelessness, craft and support legislative proposals, supplement legal claims in court, support community organizing efforts, and more. Workshops will address specific advocacy topics, like domestic violence, education, civil rights, and veterans. A full schedule is available here.

 

NPR's Pam Fessler will kick off the first morning, moderating a roundtable conversation among Barb Poppe, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Maria Foscarinis, and other national experts about where our government currently stands, both in principle and in action, with regard to the human right to housing. Carol Anderson, author of Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, will deliver the lunch keynote, and describe how the civil rights struggle was originally a human rights struggle, how it shifted its focus, and why it needs to go back. In the afternoon, best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich will moderate a panel of formerly homeless individuals, as they reflect on how the lack of a right to housing impacted their lives. Throughout the day, we'll hear from distinguished speakers from government, the media, academia, the advocacy community, and, most importantly, the homeless and low-income community, and will share strategies and collaborate to plan future work together. More speakers listed here. The evening will conclude with a celebration of the contributions of pro bono attorneys to the effort to end and prevent homelessness.

 

On the second day, the Forum will focus on messaging and congressional advocacy, followed by an opportunity for individual visits with senators and representatives. Additionally, the Law Center will host a special congressional briefing offering a human rights perspective on the Federal Plan to End Homelessness.

 

You won't want to miss the tremendous opportunities available at this year's Forum. Register now to secure your seat!


The forum is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, and supported by the U.S. Human Rights Fund; Au Bon Pain; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP; Jones Day; and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.


Policy Priorities for 2011

 

The Law Center is pleased to release its 2011 Policy Priorities. We look forward to working with all of you and with other allies from across the country to ensure that the federal government takes critical additional steps towards the realization of a human right to housing in the United States.

 

By making the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act permanent, we will help prevent homelessness for tenants living in foreclosed properties. We will also push to make the Title V federal surplus property program more effective - ensuring that homeless service providers can access free federal property for use in their work. And we will work with HUD to implement the HEARTH Act of 2009, while also advancing legislative proposals to make sure that homeless students can remain in their schools of origin and that schools can afford transportation to get them there.

 

We will continues to focus on civil rights issues impacting homeless persons, highlighting the criminalization of homelessness in communities across the country and promoting constructive alternatives. We will also expand the Violence Against Women Act's housing protections to other HUD programs. And we will continue to work with the White House and State Department on an executive order creating an Interagency Working Group on Human Rights.


Questions? Contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen at jrosen@nlchp.org.  


Budget Update: Critical Cuts Made

 

On Friday, April 8, Congress and the Obama Administration reached an agreement to fund federal programs for the remainder of the current federal fiscal year (FY 2011, running through September 30).The total cuts agreed to will reduce the budget by roughly $40 billion compared to FY 2010.  Because the budget negotiations were conducted under a framework where revenue raisers and defense spending cuts were not a part of the conversation, the cuts will fall disproportionately on the 12 percent of the federal budget that funds social programs such as those that provide affordable housing, human services, education, and employment.

 

After funding levels were set, all programs were cut by .2-percent. In addition, larger cuts were made to a number of specific programs.A chart detailing several of the most critical cuts (in millions) is below. The full list of cuts is available here.  

   

Program

FY 2010 Funding

FY 2011 Funding

Percent Cut

 

 

 

 

HUD-VASH (Section 8 vouchers for homeless veterans)

$75

$50

33%

Housing Counseling

$88

$0

100%

Community Health Centers

$2190

$1590

27%

FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program

$200

$80

40%

Legal Services Corporation

$420

$405

4%

  

The arrangement on FY 2011 funding frees up Congress for additional contentious fights over spending for next fiscal year and the years beyond that. First, the House will vote on a Republican budget blueprint, which contemplates cuts to affordable housing, while also turning the SNAP (food stamp), Medicare, and Medicaid programs into block grant programs. Currently these programs are entitlements, meaning that every person who applies and is eligible will receive assistance, no matter how much it costs. Turning them into block grants would provide a set amount of funding for the programs. Once those funds are spent in a given year, the programs would not accept any new applicants.

 

If this proposal is enacted, various House committees would then be responsible for producing specific legislation to create budget savings. While the House proposal will not be accepted by the Senate, the Senate is likely to make significant concessions to the House - concessions that could well result in significant spending reductions for programs assisting low income people.

 

We will continue to advocate for increases, rather than cuts, in the budget for these crucial services, and will be calling on you for your support. 

 

Help Preserve Free Shelter & Housing Resources

Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is the portion of the law that provides homeless service providers with a guaranteed right of first refusal to receive surplus federal property, at no cost, to provide housing or supportive services for people who are homeless. Every year, properties conveyed under Title V are used to house 17,000 people, to provide education or job training for more than 24,000 people, and to provide mental health or substance abuse services for more than 10,500 people, among other things.

 

The Law Center is working with Congressional staff to propose sensible reforms to the program. Our recommendations would ensure that available properties are better marketed to homeless service providers, that technical assistance is available so it becomes easier to learn about and apply for property, and that the property transfer process is improved, so fewer hurdles arise when property is transferred from the government to a provider.

 

However, we are deeply concerned that the parts of the Obama Administration (including the Office of Management and Budget), along with some Members of Congress, are proposing changes to the federal property disposition process that would eliminate or severely curtail Title V - in the name of government efficiency and deficit reduction. 

 

Preserving and even improving Title V will take significant effort, and we need your help. If you are a provider whose organization has received Title V property or would like to receive that property, please be in touch with us. The same is true if you're aware of other local groups that have received Title V property.To get involved, contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen at jrosen@nlchp.org

Congressional Briefing: Bringing Human Rights Home    

 

In late March, the Law Center coordinated an effort that brought together the nation's leading domestic human rights experts for a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. The experts, including Law Center Executive Director, Maria Foscarinis (watch her testimony here) discussed the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States by the UN Human Rights Council.  

 

Other experts participating on the panel were:

  • Joseph Zogby, Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
  • Wade Henderson,  President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director of the U.S. Human Rights Network
  • Laura Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office
  • Cristina Finch, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA 

Each speaker addressed a different aspect of the Human Rights Council's recommendations, the government's responses to those recommendations, and the role of Congress in ensuring human rights are enjoyed to the fullest here at home.

 

Beginning with a year-long, nation-wide consultation process, the UPR involved hundreds of NGOs and thousands of constituents around the country. Drawing upon this coordinated effort, the U.S. government submitted a comprehensive report on the status of human rights in the U.S. to the UN Human Rights Council. In November, the Council reviewed the U.S. report and issued its recommendations, highlighting issues ranging from homelessness and poverty to racial profiling and immigration. On March 18, the U.S. government responded to these recommendations.

 

The Law Center would like to thank Senator Durbin's office for sponsoring this important and powerful event, which was attended by more than 40 Congressional staffers, government officials, and advocates from the country's leading NGOs.We invite our readers to view video of the briefing.  For more information on the human rights review process, please visit our UPR wiki page. 

 

States Accepting Applications for Emergency Loan Program

 

On April 4, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that five states have begun to implement the new Emergency Homeowner Loan Program (EHLP). Modeled after a state program that has provided financial assistance to unemployed homeowners in Pennsylvania for 28 years, EHLP was greated by Congress last summer as part of the comprehensive Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. After learning last fall that HUD had the funds to operate this program, but had not yet begun to implement it, the Law Center worked with a coalition of national, state, and local advocates to pressure the agency to begin distributing its funds. As part of that effort, we raised the importance of providing these funds to homeowners when we met with HUD to discuss the agency's obligations to help further the human right to housing. 

           

The program will provide federal loans to homeowners who have suffered a reduction in income due to unemployment, underemployment, or medical conditions. Loans of up to $50,000 will be available to homeowners to defray up to 12 months of accrued debt and 24 months of future mortgage payments. Although Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delware, Connecticut, and Idaho are the first states to fully implement the programs, Dodd-Frank included $1 billion in total funding for 27 states.The Law Center will continue to push for funds to be released in other states, while also monitoring efforts by Congress to defund EHLP and other federal homeowner assistance programs. 

 

For more information about EHLP in your state, contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at gdoetzer@nlchp.org. 

 

International Panel on Criminalization of Homelessness

 

In March, Law Center Legal Director Karen Cunningham participated in a two-day workshop on the Penalization of People Living in Poverty. The meeting in Geneva, Switzerland was hosted by the International Council on Human Rights Policy and brought together more than 20 researchers and advocates from around the world.  Karen presented on the criminalization of homelessness in the United States, the myriad forms it takes, and the Law Center's efforts to protect the civil and human rights of people experiencing homeless through domestic and international policy work, public education, and impact litigation. Representatives from other countries addressed the penalization of poor people through the governance of public spaces and urban planning, public health systems, and the policing of welfare recipients. 

 

Over the course of the meeting, it became apparent that while the particular legal, political, economic, and cultural contexts in which the penalization of poor people takes place differs from country to country, many of the problems are remarkably similar. Participants agreed to remain in communication and share materials and information following the meeting, so that they can continue to learn from each other and engage in collaborative efforts to bring international attention to the penalization of people living in poverty around the world.   

 

United Nations Independent Expert on the Question of Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Magdalena Sepulveda, who attended the meeting, will draw on what she learned to prepare a report to the United Nations General Assembly aimed at raising awareness of the penalization of people living in poverty and providing recommendations to states on addressing the human rights abuses inherent in such practices.

Board Member Profile: Pam Malester 

Pam MalesterWith a life-long commitment to fighting homelessness and poverty, Pam Malester has been on the Law Center's Board of Directors since 1994, and is a past co-chair of the board. She says that she values being a part of the Law Center because, "I think what it would be like not to have a roof over your head. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have food on our tables and shelter over our heads should do all that we can to make sure that the most vulnerable in our society have these essentials and live with dignity. That is why I am such a strong advocate for the work that the Law Center and its remarkable staff do."

 

Prior to retiring, Pam worked at the Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Health and Human Services. She is now also on the boards of Health Care for the Homeless and the House of Ruth in Maryland. In addition to her other numerous volunteer activities, Pam has mentored at an elementary/middle school in West Baltimore for the past 11 years.

 

For her numerous achievements and her dedication to fighting issues of homelessness and poverty, Pam has been named one of the Top 100 Women in Maryland three times and inducted into its Circle of Excellence.  

 

We are very appreciative of Pam's dedication to the Law Center and its mission. She is an irreplaceable member of our board.


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