In Just Times header
News and Commentary for July 2011  
Lawyers Working to End Homelessness
In This Issue
Webinar: Simply Unacceptable Report
HUD Affirms Housing Rights for Ex-Offenders
Fair Deficit Reduction: Protecting Low-Income People
McKinney-Vento Primer Updated
Save the Date: McKinney-Vento Awards
New Data Highlights Surplus Property Successes
Pro Bono Corner: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips
 From Maria's Desk

Maria was on vacation while this issue of In Just Times was prepared. Here, Policy Director Jeremy Rosen offers his thoughts on the federal budget debate.

 

If you're following the current budget debate in Washington, you're probably hearing a lot about how out of control spending has left us with historically unsustainable levels of debt. Proponents of this theory tell us that there's only one way to fix the problem -- a new level of fiscal austerity that would result in massive cuts to affordable housing, health care, unemployment, food assistance, and other programs that help low- and middle-income Americans survive from month to month. But just as every time I listen to Lady Gaga I'm reminded of Madonna, this isn't really new rhetoric at all -- we've heard it since before the Law Center was founded in 1989.

 

Fortunately, these arguments are easily debunked. It's a fact that domestic social spending is only 12 percent of the federal budget, and in inflation and population adjusted dollars it hasn't gone up since 2001. So why did we go from a surplus a decade ago to our current position? Because we've spent considerably more money on wars and homeland security, and thanks to tax cuts we've taken in considerably less revenue.

 

We don't need to cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development's budget to reduce the deficit -- we'll save quite a lot of money if President Obama makes good on his commitments to reduce spending on our current wars, and we'll get a bunch of new money if the Administration and Congress simply allow the tax cuts of the last decade to expire in 2012. This plan has two advantages -- it doesn't hurt poor people, and it relies on the ability of Congress to sit on its hands, unable to act.  

 

The Law Center has joined national organizations that focus on a wide range of human-needs issues to emphasize the importance of a reasoned approach to deficit reduction -- one that doesn't harm those with the lowest incomes. If Washington policymakers stick to the facts, we can get there. 

Free Webinar: "Simply Unacceptable" Report

 

In June, the Law Center released a report card grading the United States on its response to homelessness and its compliance with the human right to housing. "Simply Unacceptable": Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the U.S. issues failing grades in more than one category.  

 

According to international standards, the human right to housing consists of seven elements: security of tenure; availability of services, materials, and infrastructure; affordability; accessibility; habitability; location; and cultural adequacy. This report offers common sense solutions that the U.S. can adopt to better meet the housing needs of homeless and poor people.

 

The Law Center will host a webinar on Tuesday, June 19 at 2 p.m. to discuss the report, its findings, and recommendations. The webinar will be facilitated by the report's primary author, Eric Tars, human rights program director at the Law Center. The webinar will also feature commentary and analysis from Gregory Countess, assistant director of advocacy for housing & community economic development at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, which has an innovative program to integrate human rights framing into its advocacy work.  

 

The webinar is free, but donations are appreciated to offset costs. The recommended donation is $10.  

 

To register for the webinar, click here.  

 

Contact Whitney Gent at wgent@nlchp.org or 202-638-2535 with questions.  

   

HUD Affirms Housing Rights for Ex-Offenders

 

On June 17, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Assistant Secretary Sandra Henriquez sent letters to the executive directors of all public housing authorities (PHAs) in the country reaffirming their discretion to allow ex-offenders to return to/live in public housing or to receive housing vouchers. It also tells PHAs that they should take into consideration evidence that the individual has engaged in rehabilitation, will accept social services, and other factors that indicate a reasonable probability of favorable future conduct.  

 

Removal of barriers to accessing public housing resources for those with criminal records was a major demand of the coalition of housing and homeless organizations engaged in the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process led by the Law Center. As described in our UPR Report, research shows that those exiting the criminal justice system are at high risk for homelessness and that those without stable housing are far more likely to recidivate.

 

At the UPR, the U.S. accepted recommendations to reduce the number of homeless people and reform laws to ensure non-discrimination based on race in housing (among other areas), which given the disparate impact of criminal records in communities of color, this would do.

 

While not creating any new policy, encouraging PHAs to make maximum use of their statutory flexibility in accepting applicants with criminal records is a step in the right direction. We at the Law Center have already seen reports that this affirmation of flexibility is empowering PHAs to accept more applicants, and we hope it will continue to have an impact on the ground in the coming months and years, ensuring the right to housing for all.

Fair Deficit Reduction: Protecting Low-Income People

 

The Law Center is closely monitoring ongoing negotiations about the debt limit and deficit reduction. These high-level discussions have a direct impact on whether Congress will allocate enough funding to preserve critical affordable housing, homeless assistance, and human services programs.

 

With the debt limit set to be exceeded Aug. 2, congressional leaders and the Obama Administration are continuing deficit-reduction negotiations. House and Senate Republicans have advocated for deep budget cuts and a balanced budget amendment to reduce the deficit. The proposed budget cuts threaten essential safety net programs that support low-income people, particularly in domestic discretionary spending and Medicaid. 


The Law Center has joined with our colleagues in the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) to establish a set of principles
for fair deficit reduction that protects low-income Americans and has communicated them to both Congress and the Administration. We will continue to advocate for a budget that preserves essential programs for low-income people, and will keep you informed of new developments. 
Homeless Children's Education Rights Guide 

 

While children across the country pack up their books for summer, the Law Center has been refining and expanding its advocacy materials on education access for homeless students. In addition to advising school personnel on fall enrollment matters, the Children & Youth program has updated its primer on the McKinney-Vento Act, Education of Homeless Children and Youth: The Guide to their Rights, and has partnered with attorneys at DLA Piper to create a manual and toolkit for litigation.  

 

Collectively, these materials promise to empower teachers, administrators, and advocates to advance the rights of all children, whether stably housed or otherwise, to access a free and appropriate education.


Save the Date: McKinney-Vento Awards 

 

The Law Center's 13th annual McKinney-Vento Awards will be held Sept. 21, at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C.

 

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, will deliver the keynote address at this event recognizing the leadership of the U.S. Human Rights Fund, Rep. Barney Frank, DLA Piper, and Rob Robinson in the battle to end homelessness. Each of these honorees has been a vital partner in the Law Center's advocacy efforts. The U.S. Human Rights Fund will receive the Stewart B. McKinney Award, Rep. Frank will receive the Bruce F. Vento Award, DLA Piper will receive the Pro Bono Counsel Award, and Robinson will receive the Personal Achievement Award.  

 

The reception will begin at 6 p.m., with dinner to follow.

 

Sponsorship of this event helps support the national legal effort to prevent and end homelessness. For sponsorship opportunities, please click here or contact Whitney Gent at wgent@nlchp.org or (202) 638-2535 ext. 204.  

 

To learn more about the event and honorees, click here.

 

New Data Highlights Surplus Property Successes

The Law Center has compiled new data from the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development that highlights the positive impact that Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act has had over its more than 20 years.

 

According to statistics provided by HHS, nearly 500 surplus federal properties have been conveyed to more than 80 groups since the program's inception. The properties range from a small duplex in Alaska now being used as a shelter for survivors of domestic violence to a 10-acre parcel of vacant land in Albuquerque that has been transformed into a dynamic community for homeless youth.  HUD confirms that the properties transferred over the years to Title V providers at no cost were valued at $112 million, a number that does not begin to take into account the improvements made on the properties by providers; the costs avoided by health care and criminal justice systems; or the incalculable value of providing housing and services to homeless men, women, and children around the country for more than two decades.

 

These updated statistics bring into sharp focus the importance of protecting Title V, which is currently under attack from policymakers in Washington who are attacking the program in the name of deficit reduction. If you have received federal surplus property or would like to learn more about Title V in your community, please contact Housing Attorney Geraldine Doetzer at 202-638-2535 or by e-mail at gdoetzer@gmail.com.

 

Pro Bono Corner: Social Security Advocacy  

 

The Law Center has teamed with pro bono attorneys from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips on an important project that could eventually make it much easier for eligible homeless people to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to which they are entitled.

 

A person who applies for disability benefits and is able to document his or her disability with medical records still may not be approved for benefits without a letter from a medical professional clearly stating that the claimant meets the Social Security Administration's (SSAs) specific disability guidelines. Under current rules, this letter needs to be from a physician or a psychiatrist to be given full weight. Unfortunately, when they go to health centers or community clinics, most homeless persons see nurse practitioners or psychologists instead. Outdated SSA rules don't recognize today's reality and give medical opinions from these groups a persuasive weight. As a result, many severely disabled homeless persons do not collect a dime in disability payments.

 

The Law Center, along with our colleagues at the Advocacy and Training Center, recognized this problem and called Manatt to help us persuade SSA to change its regulations. In only a few months, a team of partners and associates has done detailed research on licensing requirements for nurse practitioners and psychologists, prepared a PowerPoint presentation for SSA, and helped conduct a conference call with the agency to review research findings. As a result of this work, SSA is reviewing the issue and has asked our team for additional information. 

 

These are only the first steps in a lengthy process, but we are moving down a path toward getting good results, and we wouldn't be in this position without Manatt. If SSA changes its rules, we'll see thousands of people with disabilities be able to prove for the first time that they are eligible for federal assistance that can net them housing and health insurance!

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