Seattle U Law students again produce groundbreaking research on homelessness

May 07, 2018

City officials, elected leaders and community advocates can now access new research and analysis about cutting edge interventions to address homelessness thanks to the groundbreaking research of Seattle University School of Law students. They have just published reports and key findings about a range of homelessness issues and interventions as part of the school's Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP).

The students produced six new reports that critique increasingly popular laws, such as begging restrictions; these reports also offer practical guidance on possible innovative solutions, including authorized encampments and safe parking programs for residents living in vehicles.

"Over the last four years, we've released 10 reports challenging laws that punish poverty," said Professor Sara Rankin, HRAP's faculty director. "These 6 new reports tackle issues and potential solutions that have never been analyzed so comprehensively before. They can make crucial contributions to advancing the fight to stop homelessness."

Over 9 months, law students participating in HRAP conducted extensive research and analysis, interviewed a wide range of experts (including people experiencing homelessness), and subjected their reports to extensive review by professionals who work directly with homeless populations, experts, researchers and others with both practical and academic expertise.

"Unfair and unlawful discrimination against people experiencing homelessness is so common and pervasive, it's invisible to many of us," said second-year law student Jocelyn Tillisch, who co-authored a brief on begging laws. "Because these laws can make homelessness worse, we must confront their impact."

Evanie Parr, another second-year law student and author of a brief on authorized encampments agrees: "There are too many people experiencing homelessness in our community who cannot wait for a perfect solution-they need shelter, stability, and security, and they need it now."

"Cities often fight homelessness with sweeps or tickets," said Ray Ivey, a second-year law student who co-authored a report on safe parking programs.  "A more effective approach starts with research and analysis."

"We often hear that homelessness is a crisis, but we need a stronger, more coordinated response," observed Rankin. "These reports push us in that direction."

Key Findings

The reports identify common problems with existing laws and policies and offer effective, legally sound alternatives. Links to all current reports are included below. All current and previous HRAP reports can be accessed by visiting the HRAP homepage.

One report offers the first statewide analysis of laws that restrict begging:

  • Begging restrictions are often illegal and can create more problems than they solve. The vast majority of Washington cities (86 percent) criminalize begging, and most of these laws (83 percent) can result in criminal charges. These laws can lead to serious collateral consequences that make it extremely difficult for already vulnerable people to access housing and employment. Read the full report.

Four of the reports are geared to the network of city officials, non-profit organizations and others working to alleviate homelessness:

  • Accessory dwellings have potential. Several cities around the country are experimenting with accessory dwellings -small units in residential backyards - to address housing shortages and homelessness crises. This guide analyzes innovative case studies in Colorado, Washington, California, and Oregon to provide lessons on structural design, project funding, screening and matching residents and hosts, potential legal liabilities, zoning regulations, and public relations considerations. Read the full report.

  • Authorized encampments can be effective interim solutions. Cities are also trying authorized encampments as temporary solutions, but implementation has been haphazard due to a dearth of practical guidance. This guide summarizes the challenges and opportunities posed by various encampment models along the West Coast. Read the full report.

  • Faith communities can be key partners. Faith-based organizations, such as churches, mosques and synagogues, are important providers of social services; they also enjoy special legal protections, allowing them to provide shelter even when prohibited by local law. This guide surveys successful practices and key considerations from faith communities in Washington and Colorado. Read the full report.

  • Safe parking is a must for people living in vehicles. Vehicle residents are a growing part of homeless populations. This guide examines case studies of successful safe parking programs in Washington and California that mitigate harm to vehicle residents and offer support that can lift people out of poverty and into stable, permanent housing. Read the full report.

The final report is a practical guide for homeless individuals and others who have been arrested:

  • Unhoused people who are arrested can be their own best advocate.  Public defenders often are overworked and have little time to spend with clients; many defendants do not even receive one. But even represented unhoused defendants can help themselves with HRAP's first-of-its-kind guide to navigating court, which introduces common legal terms and timelines, and provides strategies for those experiencing homelessness to advocate for themselves. Read the full report.

The Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University School of Law engages students in effective legal and policy research and analysis to advance the rights of homeless adults, youth, and children.

Contacts

Sara K. Rankin
Director, Homeless Rights Advocacy Project
Professor of Lawyering Skills
Seattle University School of Law
206.398.4393
rankins@seattleu.edu

David Sandler
Director of Communications
Seattle University School of Law
206.398.4108
sandlerdavid@seattleu.edu