Looking Back & Ahead: The McKinney-Vento Act Turns 25

Dear Friends—

Thank you for your support and involvement over the past year—and best wishes for 2012.  At the Law Center, we’re diving into important 2012 priorities and, after a year of transition, we’re welcoming new members to our team.  Their fresh perspectives will be critical as we expand our pro bono collaborations to provide our legal expertise and support to more communities.

The year promises to be a critical one on several fronts.  We’ll be marking the 25th anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Act, drawing attention to its positive impact and pushing Congress to make good on its promise to end homelessness in America.  We’re also gearing up for the fall presidential election—challenging laws that keep homeless and poor people from voting, and working to ensure homelessness and poverty are treated seriously by the candidates.

The McKinney-Vento Act will officially mark its anniversary on July 22, 2012.  It’s important to look back at how this landmark Act was passed at a time when the political odds were stacked against it—and to draw some lessons from that early campaign that may serve us well now.  The anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the good the Act has done, while not forgetting that it was only meant to be a “first step” in the fight to end homelessness.  Additional measures, most notably significant funding for affordable housing, were meant to follow.  The 25th anniversary of the McKinney-Vento Act can and should be a time to demand that those measures are implemented and the human right to housing is realized for all homeless Americans.

The fall election is a critical time for engagement, both for homeless and poor people and those who care about issues of social and economic justice.  But state voter identification laws are increasingly making it difficult—and in some cases impossible—for homeless and poor people to exercise their constitutional right to vote.  That’s why we filed suit last month against the state of Wisconsin challenging its voter ID law.   In addition to protecting the right to vote, we want to make sure that issues of homelessness and poverty are raised during the election season and addressed by the candidates.

Partnerships are crucial to our work, and among our many partners, pro bono law firms and legal departments play a special role.  Last year, we launched Project LEARN, our new partnership with DLA Piper, and to date, we’ve trained 55 lawyers and paralegals in 17 cities on the education rights of homeless children.  In turn, they helped us provide advice and support to dozens of families and local service providers—significantly expanding our capacity.  This year, we plan to build and grow that program.

In 2011, we also launched our new Associates Advisory Council, providing a vehicle for law firm associates to engage directly in supporting our organization.  Further, we expanded our flagship LEAP program, with Dechert LLP as new chair and John Grisham continuing as honorary chair, adding two new in-house legal departments as members.  We plan further growth in 2012.

Finally, after significant transition last year, we have a strong new team in place.  Last summer, Louise Weissman joined us as operations director, overseeing finances and administration.  In the fall, Cecilia Dos Santos took over as pro bono coordinator and Robert Bennett became our new administrative assistant.  David Hale has joined us as development and communications director and Tristia Bauman is our new housing staff attorney.  Lastly, Andy Beres, our grant writer and communications assistant, stepped up as interim development and communications director in late 2011, serving in that role with great dedication and professionalism; his new title is development and communications coordinator.  We are pleased that Rob Ryan, CPA and a leader at the American Red Cross, has joined our board of directors and is serving on our finance committee.

Thank you so much for your continued support.  We at the Law Center are looking forward to working with all of you in the coming year to achieve our common goal: ending homelessness in America.

– Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director

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