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News and Commentary for September 2010 )
Lawyers Working to End Homelessness Vol. 9, No. 9
In this issue

From Maria's Desk

Back to School

Fall is fast upon us, and the school year has begun for children across the country. But for the growing numbers of children who are experiencing homelessness, simply going to school may be an elusive goal.

These children face barriers to enrolling and attending school - simply because they lack a home of their own. The impact is severe: In addition to the turmoil of losing their homes, neighborhoods and possessions, these children suffer the additional trauma of losing their teachers, classmates and school. It is also long-lasting: Without a stable education, homeless children are likely to suffer academically and emotionally, affecting their future prospects and feeding the cycle of homelessness and poverty.

Ending and preventing homelessness must include ensuring that these children have access to school - as well as homes. This is why the Law Center has, since its inception, focused on expanding and enforcing the right to education for homeless children. In fact, at our annual dinner October 14, we'll highlight one recent success and honor the local partner and family we worked with.

Our advocacy has made a big impact; school attendance rates have increased dramatically. But they are still not where they need to be. Too many children are being shut out, and the need is greater than ever. The combined foreclosure and economic crises are driving dramatic increases in homelessness in communities across the country. Click here to see the most current version of our fact sheet documenting this impact. A recent report by our allies at First Focus and the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth found that the number of homeless schoolchildren increased by over 41% in the past two years alone.

To find out more, visit the children and youth program pages on our website. To support our work, click here.

Celebrating Homeless Advocates

Please join us October 14 at the 12th Annual McKinney-Vento Awards, where we will pay tribute to outstanding homeless advocates and celebrate the accomplishments of the last year in the fight to end homelessness in America. The awards will be held at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC, with a reception beginning at 6 p.m.

This year, we are proud to welcome U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan as the evening's keynote speaker.

We are excited to present awards to New York Times best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich, the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, Dechert LLP, and the Elzer family.

Please consider sponsoring and/or attending this inspiring event. For more information, click here.

HPRP Survey

Since last fall, the Law Center has been studying implementation of the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), a HUD homelessness prevention program created under the Recovery Act and funded at $1.5 billion over three years. The Law Center has been working with legal and non-legal service providers from across the country to try to determine whether the program is working properly and how it could be improved. As HUD plans to release new homelessness prevention regulations for public comment later this fall, the Law Center is gearing up to offer specific feedback on HPRP.

To help prepare this analysis, the Law Center has created an HPRP survey. The survey is designed to elicit feedback from many different groups involved with HPRP at the community level, including legal services providers providing legal assistance through the program or advocating for clients denied assistance, as well as nonprofits who administer HPRP dollars or help clients access those resources. We urge you to take 15 minutes and complete our online survey - it will help us make the case for a better HUD homelessness prevention program.

Contact Policy Director Jeremy Rosen with questions.

Orlando Food Sharing Restrictions Case Granted Rehearing

On August 31, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a rehearing requested by two groups that share food with homeless persons, Orlando Food Not Bombs and First Vagabonds Church, in a case in which they are challenging Orlando's food sharing restrictions.

The ordinance at issue requires groups sharing food with 25 or more people in public parks to obtain permits and limits groups to only two such food sharing events per year. Penalties for violating the ordinance include a fine of up to $500 and/or imprisonment up to 60 days. In 2008, a Food Not Bombs member was arrested for violating the ordinance, but ultimately was acquitted.

In September 2008, a federal district court judge had ruled that the Orlando law violated plaintiffs' rights to free speech and to exercise one's religious beliefs under the First Amendment and banned enforcement of the ordinance. In July 2010, the majority of an 11th Circuit three-judge panel overturned the district court decision and upheld the law. The Plaintiffs petitioned for a rehearing en banc, which will allow the case to be reheard before the entire 11th Circuit.

The decision to grant a rehearing is significant, as requests for re-hearings en banc are not frequently granted and it provides the plaintiffs with an opportunity to re-argue their case. In addition, the decision effectively vacates the previous 11th Circuit opinion that upheld the law and now prevents the City from enforcing the law while the case is pending.

Along with other homeless advocacy groups, the Law Center filed an amicus brief in this case in support of the plaintiff organizations.

U.S. Report to the UN Ignores Severity of Housing Crisis

When the U.S. government submitted its report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process late last month, it acknowledged the underlying importance of housing to a number of human rights. However, it ignored the severity of the current housing crisis. The report did not reflect well the concerns of the homeless and poor people whose testimonies had been offered to the government during its consultations with civil society as part of the UPR process, and it neglected to identify any specific steps the government will take to address the current housing crisis.

Earlier this year, the Law Center and its partners submitted a report outlining specific recommendations for how the U.S. government could cease its housing rights violations. Such steps included stopping the destruction of public housing, ending the criminalization of homelessness, and remedying historical discrimination in the housing market.

The Human Rights Council will conduct hearings on the U.S. report on November 5 in Geneva, Switzerland, and will issue recommendations for how the U.S. can better meet its obligations to protect and ensure human rights for all Americans. The Law Center and its partners continue to be involved in the UPR process and will work to hold the government accountable to those obligations.

Recent Victories for Homeless Students

The Law Center's technical assistance has recently resulted in a number of victories on behalf of homeless students seeking access to education under the McKinney Vento Act. In one case, a Maryland school district with a history of denying enrollment to unaccompanied youth reversed its decision to bar entrance to a student staying with relatives after being ejected from his parent's home in another state. The Law Center's advocacy not only yielded a positive result in this particular matter but also prompted the office of the State Homeless Coordinator to distribute a statewide guidance memo concerning the educational rights of unaccompanied youth.

Similarly, a parent in Georgia sought guidance from the Law Center in her efforts to ensure that her children continue to attend their former school after moving into a transitional housing program in another district. As a result of the Law Center's advocacy with their homeless liaison, the students have successfully enrolled in their original school, where they have resumed classes and extracurricular activities.

We also celebrate the Public Justice Center's recent achievements in the Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) system. Prior McKinney-Vento compliance issues led to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the district's homeless students and parents. The suit's 2008 settlement required close monitoring of BCPS. The Public Justice Center recently announced tremendous improvements in BCPS's identification and treatment of homeless students, and this year's state test scores show significant increases in homeless students' scores.

Human Right to Housing Forum Postponed

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the National Forum on the Human Right to Housing, originally slated for October 13-14, 2010, has been postponed to Spring 2011. Details forthcoming.

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