Wednesday, August 27, 2008

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Luis Rodriguez writes from D.C.

As a Georgetown University graduate student in law and public policy, I have spent the last eight months as an intern for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP). I feel that my time here has contributed to ending the criminalization of homelessness through human rights law and public policy, although there is still a good deal of work to do.

Many cities across the US have shown a trend of criminalizing life-sustaining activities, such as sleeping and eating, that people experiencing homelessness must perform in public places as a result of having nowhere else to go.

NLCHP uses a human rights framework in arguing against the criminalization of homelessness, which focuses on protecting the fundamental human dignity of people experiencing homelessness. During my time here, I had the opportunity to prepare a memo arguing that a city ordinance that limits sharing food with homeless individuals in public places violates the human right to food. This summer, human rights fellow Allison Garren and I wrote memos arguing that a city's various measures criminalizing homelessness violate various human rights. Our memos will be used in future NLCHP litigation.

In addition to violating human rights and constitutional law, the criminalization of homelessness is harmful to public policy, as these measures are not the most constructive methods for ending homelessness. I have also had the opportunity to write an article presenting constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness, which will be published in the near future. This article is based on the premise that cities should stop inappropriately using the criminal law system to remove homeless individuals from public spaces and start implementing more constructive alternatives that address the root causes of homelessness and poverty, such as providing non-coercive outreach services that engage people experiencing homelessness by providing them with low-barrier permanent supportive housing without any strings attached.

My experience with NLCHP has given me great opportunities to make progress on these important issues. I would like to thank Georgetown Law's Equal Justice Foundation for funding my internship this summer and NLCHP for giving me this opportunity. I hope I can be part of NLCHP's work to end homelessness in the future.

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Equal Justice Foundation

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