The numbers are now in, and I’m happy to announce that donated legal services NLCHP topped $6 million in 2012, a record breaking contribution to our work to prevent and end homelessness.
Each year, more than 3.5 million people spend time living on the streets or in shelters, including 1.3 million children. Almost 7 million more are doubled-up−with no home of their own—due to economic hardship. These numbers are now increasing dramatically, as the foreclosure crisis and unemployment push more and more Americans out of their homes. From 2007 to 2011, family homelessness increased by 16%.
I am so grateful that the legal community is responding vigorously and generously to the growing crisis. In 2012, 21 law firms worked with NLCHP on 52 pro bono matters; of these firms, 12 were members of our Lawyers’ Executive Advisory Partners (LEAP) program, through which firms and in house legal departments provide both pro bono and financial support to NLCHP’s. Their in-kind contributions mean that every dollar donated to NLCHP is multiplied six times over!
The legal community has been crucial to our work to end and prevent homelessness since I founded NLCHP in 1989. In fact, I myself first got involved in this work through a pro bono case representing homeless families while working as a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York in the 1980s, when homelessness was first becoming a national crisis. I may have taken my pro bono involvement to an extreme by leaving my firm for full time advocacy, but almost any level of involvement can make positive change.
Here are just a few examples of how, in 2012, NLCHP pro bono partners affected critically important issues:
- Protecting homeless persons’ fundamental voting rights through litigation challenging Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which would have disenfranchised thousands of homeless voters; the law was enjoined prior to the November election.
- Ensuring government transparency by litigating to enforce Title V of the McKinney-Vento Act, a law that serves 2.4 million homeless people each year; in a procedural victory, a federal court ruled the Obama Administration must release hundreds of documents demonstrating compliance.
- Documenting the bureaucratic barriers that prevent hundreds of thousands of homeless Americans from accessing Social Security disability benefits, and recommending more efficient procedures that also improve access.
- Helping dozens of individual homeless children enroll in school, overcoming barriers based on their homeless status, and improving policies and practices to remove barriers for thousands more. Through NLCHP’s innovative Project LEARN, law firm lawyers assisted families and educated their communities about the education rights of homeless children.
- Challenging Dallas laws that severely limit the ability of faith-based groups seeking to offer food to homeless and poor people in public places. The City has suspended enforcement pending the outcome of the case, which was tried last summer.
Pro bono lawyers make a difference not only through their work, but also by becoming informed spokespersons for and with people who are often overlooked and ignored, and by becoming informed participants in the political process. Too few Americans understand the reality and extent of homelessness, and too few are aware of the solutions. A larger, informed base of support that can mobilize and apply pressure to our elected officials is essential to our advocacy to end and prevent homelessness.
Thank you so much to our pro bono volunteers and, especially, our LEAP members.
- Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director