The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty

Buoyed by the success of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Maria Foscarinis founded the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty in 1989 to “use the power of the law to advocate for the legal rights of homeless and economically vulnerable people” ( The nonprofit she developed gave her the opportunity to address the many obstacles on the long journey to improving the lives of people experiencing economic hardship and homelessness. Effective advocacy by the National Law Center prompted Congress to pass the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act in 2009, which prevents the abrupt eviction of tenants living in foreclosed properties, allowing them time to find alternative housing. The National Law Center has challenged voter-identification laws in Indiana and Wisconsin preventing homeless people without valid IDs from exercising their constitutional right to vote (

A major advocacy effort of the National Law Center is focused on addressing the criminalization of homelessness and protecting the civil rights of homeless people. Homeless people are often treated as criminals because they live in public places, even when no alternatives exist. In many American cities, it is a crime to sleep in public places. Loitering in public places, panhandling, and begging are also prohibited in many locales (www. Because criminalization is damaging, expensive, and hampers integration into job and housing opportunities, the National Law Center urged the Interagency Council on Homelessness to encourage cities to pursue constructive alternatives to criminalization. In addition, the National Law Center persuaded the United Nations Human Rights Council to adopt its recommendations condemning state and local laws in the United States that criminalize homeless people. Recently, the United States Department of Justice declared criminalization of homeless people to be unconstitutional. The National Law Center has advocated for the federal government to use the power of the purse to prevent criminalization. HUD could, for example, use their funding authority to prevent criminalization.[1]

National organizations such as the National Law Center, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness often work together and involve advocacy groups across the nation in efforts to address the housing needs and civil rights of homeless and impoverished people. Moreover, the importance of public funding for housing and services has made advocates of service providers as they strive to obtain funding in routine budget requests from state and municipal governments.

  • [1] Personal communication, Maria Foscarinis, September 4, 2015.
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