“Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don’t have food – that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way.”
The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless envisions a just and inclusive community for all residents of the District of Columbia, where housing is a human right and where every individual and family has equal access to the resources they need to thrive.
Our mission is to use the law to make justice a reality for our neighbors who struggle with homelessness and poverty. Combining community lawyering and advocacy to achieve our clients’ goals, our expert staff and network of volunteer attorneys provide low barrier, comprehensive legal services at intake sites throughout the District of Columbia, helping our clients to access housing, shelter, and life-saving services. Rooted in the experiences of this client work, we effectively blend system reform efforts, policy advocacy, community education and client engagement to advocate for long term improvements in local and federal programs that serve the low- and no-income community.
Legal Clinic Work, Mission, and Goals
The Legal Clinic envisions a just and inclusive community for all residents of the District of Columbia, where housing is a human right and where every resident has access to the resources they need to thrive. Our mission is to use the law to make justice a reality for our neighbors who struggle with homelessness and poverty…combining representation, systemic reform, policy and budget advocacy, and community engagement to achieve housing justice for DC’s lowest income residents.
The Legal Clinic’s goals include:
Closing the Justice Gap by making lawyers available to help unhoused and at-risk community members maneuver through DC’s justice and administrative systems.
Ameliorating the Homelessness Crisis by protecting the rights of residents throughout the homeless services continuum; ensuring the lawful and effective operation of programs in that continuum; and safeguarding the interests and property of unhoused residents.
Promoting the Human Right to Housing, in the short term by preventing displacement, protecting and improving subsidized housing; advocating for expansion of deeply affordable housing opportunities; challenging discrimination and other barriers that impact the use of vouchers; and ultimately in the long-run by securing an enforceable right to housing in DC.
Advancing the Human Right to Participation by supporting community members in learning about their rights and how to influence power and government decision-making, and helping clients bring their voices directly into conversation with those decision-makers.
Current Major Programs and Activities
The Legal Clinic uses a combination of direct representation, systemic advocacy (impact litigation, agency reform efforts, and policy and budget advocacy), client education and civic engagement to achieve housing justice for our clients. Its efforts include:
Direct Representation – Community members experiencing homelessness face myriad challenges simply to survive; when combined with an unexpected legal problem, those challenges can become overwhelming. The Legal Clinic was founded to break down barriers to access to justice for unhoused residents. Through both its Attorney-of-the-Day program and its Legal Assistance Project (LAP), Legal Clinic staff and volunteer attorneys continue to represent individual clients, with a primary focus on helping them regain stability by accessing shelter and permanent housing. These cases highlight for the Legal Clinic where systems are broken and where programs are inadequately funded, which in turn informs the Legal Clinic’s systemic advocacy.
Systemic Advocacy – Most often, the legal problems for which clients seek assistance are a result of broken systems, rather than any “brokenness” of clients themselves. Thus, while the Legal Clinic assists clients in resolving their specific legal problems, it also addresses the systems issues that led to the legal issue in the first instance. The Legal Clinic undertakes policy and budget advocacy, as well as agency and program reform, to address those systems.
- Homeless Services advocacy addresses the adequacy of DC’s shelter system in terms of quality, capacity, safety, and accessibility, especially important in the pandemic.
- Affordable Housing advocacy aims to preserve and improve the quality of existing affordable housing; expand housing subsidies; and prevent discrimination that prevents low-income, primarily Black residents from using vouchers or otherwise accessing housing.
- Anti-Criminalization advocacy seeks to minimize the punitive nature of law enforcement, training police about the rights of unhoused residents and the resources available to assist them. The Legal Clinic also protect the rights and property of residents of encampments, which have expanded during the pandemic as unhoused residents seek safer alternatives to shelter.
Community education and engagement – The Legal Clinic is committed to ensuring that unhoused community members are aware of their rights, have the training and support needed to participate in the public discourse that impacts their lives, and the ability and space to develop their own advocacy goals.
In much of its advocacy, the Legal Clinic partners with other legal service providers and community organizations, uniquely bringing to that collaborative work a legal perspective on issues that impact DC’s unhoused and at-risk residents and a deep knowledge of laws governing homeless services.
Amber W. Harding, Executive Director, (202) 328-5503, email@example.com
Before being appointed executive director, much of Amber’s work has focused on enforcing DC’s legal and policy commitments to safe and appropriate shelter. She also works to increase civil rights protections for people experiencing homelessness, including reducing barriers in shelter and housing for people with disabilities, people with criminal records, and people with poor credit and rental histories. She advocates for increased funding for affordable housing as the primary solution to homelessness. She is on the steering committee of The Way Home Campaign.
Renata Aguilera-Titus, Director of Communications and Development, (202) 328-1263, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact about: Interview requests
Renata manages the Legal Clinic’s external communications, coordinates blog and social media content, and supports the strategic communication aspect of Legal Clinic projects, initiatives, and development work. She is the point of contact for press and media inquiries.
LaJuan Brooks, Director of Community Engagement, (202) 328-5500, email@example.com
LaJuan joined the Legal Clinic in 2007, and is a proud veteran of the US Army. Prior to joining the Legal Clinic, LaJuan developed experience assisting the Fair Budget Coalition and being an advocate for the homeless population in DC.
Joshua Drumming, Law Graduate, Policy & Advocacy
Zoe Garcia, Development Manager
Maria Le, Intake and Office Assistant
Karen Malovrh, Senior Counsel, (202)328-5513, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact about: Legal Assistance Project
Karen is a case-counseling attorney with the Legal Assistance Project, supporting volunteers at the Unity Health Care intake site at CCNV, located in the Federal City Building. Prior to joining the Legal Clinic, Karen defended parents in child abuse and neglect cases as a member of Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect in DC Superior Court. Additionally, Karen worked as post-graduate law clerk in the Re-entry Program of the DC Public Defender Service. She graduated from the George Washington University with a major in history and a minor in Africana studies and received her law degree from the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia.
Paul Marchione, Managing Director, (202) 328-5511, email@example.com
Britney Monroe, Legal Assistance Project Coordinating Attorney
Becky O’Brien, Director of Legal Services, (202) 328-5507, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brittany K. Ruffin, Director of Policy & Advocacy, (202) 328-5506, email@example.com
Contact about: Policy and budget advocacy with D.C. Council; Preservation, creation, and expansion of affordable and public housing; reducing barriers for those with criminal records
Brittany’s work is focused on promoting policy, budget, and programmatic solutions that will lead to greater quantity and improved quality of affordable housing for D.C.’s lowest-income residents. Through her advocacy and representation, Brit works to prevent displacement, increase civil rights protections for individuals experiencing/facing homelessness, and reduce barriers to housing, including efforts to increase access for those with criminal records.
Prior to joining the Legal Clinic, Brit fought to protect the rights of minority and low-income communities as a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice of The Legal Aid Society of New York in Brooklyn, NY. Additionally, she has served as a student-attorney in Howard University School of Law’s Criminal Justice Clinic and as a law clerk for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the Office of the Inspecting Judge of Prisons in Cape Town, South Africa. Prior to law school, Brit taught special education courses to high school students.
Brit graduated from Howard University School of Law with a J.D. and a Family Law Certificate. There, she was also the Vice-President of the Huver I. Brown Trial Advocacy Moot Court Team. Brit completed her undergraduate education in Psychology and African-American Studies, with Honors, at the University of Maryland.
Brittany is admitted to practice law in New York, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ann Marie Staudenmaier, Senior Counsel, (202) 328-5509, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact about: Legal Assistance Project, anti-criminalization of homelessness related to encampments and training for police officers and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
Ann Marie joined the Legal Clinic staff in 1996, as a case-counseling attorney for the Legal Assistance Project. Ann Marie spends much of her time mentoring and supervising volunteer attorneys at Legal Assistance Project intake sites SOME (So Others Might Eat), Street Sense and the Downtown Day Services Center, in addition to maintaining her own caseload. Ann Marie also coordinates all the Legal Clinic’s police-related civil rights work, including monitoring police and government treatment of people experiencing homelessness; working with other anti-criminalization groups around the country; conducting Street Rights seminars; educating local government and businesses about the rights of persons experiencing homelessness on public space; strategizing about litigation strategies; and regularly conducting “Homelessness 101” trainings for all Metropolitan Police Department Recruit classes and other law enforcement agencies in D.C.
Prior to joining the Legal Clinic, Ann Marie worked for several years at Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau as both a staff attorney and Chief Attorney in various local offices. She is a poverty law generalist, having practiced in virtually every area of civil legal services over the past 30 years.
Ann Marie graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin, and received her law degree from George Washington University.
Kelsey Vaughan, Volunteer Coordinator, (202) 328-1024, email@example.com
Contact about: volunteering as an attorney or legal assistant, upcoming trainings.
Kelsey manages the Legal Assistance Project (LAP) volunteer training program and intake calendar, and is responsible for volunteer recruitment, sustainability, and coordination for both LAP and outreach to families experiencing housing crises. Kelsey is the liaison between the Legal Clinic and a number of law firms and schools throughout the District of Columbia. In addition, Kelsey organizes volunteer events, discussion series, and community presentations on behalf of the Legal Clinic.
James E. Rocap, III, Esq., Steptoe & Johnson, (2009 – present), President
Ericka Aiken-Adams, Esq., Wilmer Hale, (2017 – present), Vice President
Valerie E. Ross, Esq., ArentFox Schiff, (2013 – present), Treasurer
Jon-Michael Dougherty, Esq., Gilbert LLP, (2021 – present), Secretary
Alan L. Banks, (2018 – present)
Cheryl K. Barnes, Freelance Homeless Activist, (1997 – present)
Tyrone Chisholm, Jr., (2021 – present)
Laurie B. Davis, Esq., (1987 – present)
Jennifer C. Everett, Esq., Jones Day (2021 – present)
Nkechi Feaster, (2018 – present)
Wesley R. Heppler, Esq., (1989 – present)
Susan M. Hoffman, Esq., Crowell & Moring, (2006 – present)
John R. Jacob, Esq., Akin Gump, (2008 – present)
William M. Leahy, Apple (2021 – present)
Sterling Morriss Howard, (2014 – present)
John Monahan, Esq., Georgetown University, (2017 – present)
Anita F. Puri, Accenture Federal Services, (2019 – present)
David E. Rogers, Esq., Winston & Strawn LLP, (1994 – present)
Tiana Russell, Esq., Crowell & Moring, (2017 – present)
Jeff Schwaber, Esq., Stein, Sperling, (1988 – present)
Marsha Tucker, Director of Pro Bono, Arnold & Porter, (1997 – present)
David Wittenstein, Esq., (2002 – present)
Daniel I. Wolf, Gilbert LLP, (2019 – present)
Organization and firm affiliation included for identification purposes only
Since 2003, the Public Welfare Foundation has provided our office space in the historic True Reformer Building, located on U Street in the Shaw community of Washington, DC. The Foundation’s generosity has allowed us to devote our resources more fully to our work. In giving a home to the Legal Clinic, the Public Welfare Foundation has been a faithful partner in our efforts to ensure that all residents of the District of Columbia have a place to call home.
The Legal Clinic was founded in 1986 with the encouragement and support of the DC Bar and DC Bar Foundation, with the goal of breaking down the barriers that prevented the homeless and low-income population in Washington, DC from accessing legal assistance through traditional methods. Since that time, the Legal Clinic has played a major role in protecting the rights and advancing the interests of those who are homeless in the nation’s capital. Set out below is the story of the Legal Clinic’s growth and the District’s response to homelessness.
Timeline of Homelessness in DC and the Work of the Legal Clinic
November 1984 – DC voters overwhelmingly support Initiative 17, establishing a “right to shelter” in the District, the first statutory right to shelter in the nation
Summer 1985 – DC attorney David Crosland convenes the Ad Hoc Committee for the Homeless under the auspices of the DC Bar
December 1985 – First recruitment session for volunteer lawyers, held at the DC Bar
1986 – Pro Bono lawyers begin to serve four pilot intake sites, supported by volunteers Gloria Flanagan and Faye Williams
Summer 1986 – DC Bar Foundation makes first grant to support the pilot project of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Homeless. The DC Bar, through both Bar leadership (Judge Paul L. Friedman was then-President of the DC Bar) as well as its Office of Public Service Activities (now the DC Bar Pro Bono Program), lends its full support to the project
Fall 1986 -The project hires first staff person, Susie Sinclair-Smith, as coordinator
May 1987 – The pilot project becomes the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, an independently incorporated non-profit organization. Mental Health Law Project (now the Bazelon Center) served as fiscal sponsor until tax-exempt status was granted
1987 – DC Bar wins the Harrison Tweed Award for its role in launching the Legal Clinic
Fall 1987 – GULC students, led by Jeff Schwaber, hatch the idea to hold a basketball game pitting Members of Congress against Georgetown Law Faculty to raise money for a homeless charity
1987 – Legal Clinic moves from DC Bar PSA’s office to space donated by Pettit & Martin
1987 – DC council passes law requiring that homeless families be sheltered in an apartment-style setting rather than in run-down motels (the “Crawford Legislation”)
March 1988 – First Home Court game raises $42,000 for the Legal Clinic
1989 – Judge Harriet Taylor finds DC shelters to be “horrendous” and “virtual hell-holes” in Atchison vs. Barry, brought by Howrey & Simon
1990 – Shea & Gardner “adopts” the Legal Clinic from Pettit & Martin and provides office space to the growing program
June 1990 – Then-Mayor Marion Barry signs law repealing the District’s Right to Shelter
July 1990 – Anti-homelessness activist Mitch Snyder dies
October 1990 – Judge Richard Levie finds the District’s family shelter system out of compliance with DC law in Fountain vs. Barry, brought by O’Melveny & Myers
November 1990 – Advocates’ attempt to reverse the repeal of the District’s Right to Shelter fails when Referendum 005 lost by a 51% – 49% vote in the general election
December 1990 – Franklin vs. Barry is filed by Crowell & Moring, challenging the District’s failure to process emergency food stamps in compliance with the law
1992 – The Legal Clinic joins with Hogan & Hartson in filing Little vs. Barry, challenging the District’s scaling back of the General Public Assistance Program, which provided cash support to individuals with disabilities
April 1993 – The Legal Clinic receives a Commendation from President Clinton in his Volunteer Action Awards Program
1993 – WLCH vs. Kelly is filed by Howrey & Simon, challenging illegalities in the District’s family shelter intake system and seeking to protect counsel’s right of access to their clients
1993 – The Legal Clinic joins with Covington & Burling to file Pearson vs. Kelly, challenging the unlawful operation of the District’s public housing program.
1993 – U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announces the “DC Initiative,” a partnership with the District government and local non-profit organizations to pilot the development of a “Continuum of Care” shelter system
November 1993 – The Legal Clinic issues “Cold, Harsh and Unending Resistance: The District of Columbia Government’s Hidden War Against its Poor and its Homeless,” which chronicles the utter breakdown of government services and programs for low income DC residents.
November 1993 – Yetta Adams dies homeless in a bus shelter in front of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development
1994 – Judge Steffan Graae orders the DC public housing program placed into eceivership (Pearson); the District appeals
Summer 1994 – The Legal Clinic co-convenes advocates and service providers who unite to challenge unfair budget cuts in the wake of the District financial crisis. This effort becomes the Fair Budget Coalition
August 1994 – The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness issues its Operational Plan for Year 1 of the DC Initiative
Late 1994 – The Legal Clinic testifies before Congress regarding the impact of DC’s financial crisis on residents of DC who are homeless
1994 – The Legal Clinic helps to establish Campaign for New Community, a multi-faceted advocacy effort to break down the barriers created by neighborhood opposition to the siting of programs for people who are poor, homeless or disabled
1995 – Legal Clinic expands to include an outreach component and intensifies efforts to provide assistance during hypothermic conditions
1995 – Financial Control Board appointed to take over management of the District
1995 – Fair Budget Coalition and other community groups seek to have “Declaration of Emergency” in the District because of the shredded social safety net and palpable suffering of DC’s low income residents
Spring 1995 – David Gilmore becomes receiver of the DC Housing Authority (Pearson)
1996 – District repeals local Emergency Assistance and General Public Assistance programs
Fall 1996 – The Legal Clinic expands our work with homeless families
December 1996 – Mental Health department placed into receivership
1997 – Legal Clinic convenes the Welfare Advocates Group to participate in, and monitor, welfare reform efforts in the District
1998 – District abolishes the Tenant Assistance Program, a locally-funded rent subsidy program serving low-income DC residents
1998 – DC Initiative ends; the Legal Clinic continues to push for reforms concerning the management of homeless services
1998 – The Legal Clinic begins training of Metropolitan Police recruits on issue of homelessness
1999 – The Legal Clinic and Fair Budget Coalition sponsor Campaign for a Just and Inclusive Community, whose Creed of Justice and Inclusion was adopted by 300+ community organizations and District residents
1999 – The Legal Clinic joins with Akin Gump to file Hackett vs. JMC Associateson behalf of more than 200 mental health consumers whose benefits had been stolen by a Department of Mental Health contractor
March 2000 – The Legal Clinic convenes advocates to challenge District’s proposed condemnations of Columbia Heights apartment buildings housing low-income immigrants
June 2000 – Mayor Williams establishes Homeless Advisory Group
2000 – DC Housing Authority comes out of receivership
2000 – The Legal Clinic launches a Welfare Hotline to provide assistance to recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
October 2000 – The Legal Clinic begins to publish and distribute “Listen Up,” a monthly newsletter for our client community
December 2000 – Mayor Williams abandons Homeless Advisory Group and establishes Continuum of Care Work Group
December 23, 2000 – Jesus Blanco dies homeless on the street, just steps away from La Casa Shelter
Fall 2002 – Legal Clinic establishes Affordable Housing Initiative to intensify efforts to preserve and expand affordable housing for the lowest income District residents
January 2003 – Mayor Williams abandons Continuum of Care Work Group and establishes a Focus Group on Access to Housing for Homeless and Very Low Income City Residents
2003 – The Legal Clinic, along with So Others Might Eat, successfully co-leads community advocacy to establish the Interim Disability Assistance Program
2003 – Housing Production Trust Fund becomes vital tool for development of affordable housing for low-income DC residents
Fall 2003 – The Legal Clinic expands advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities who seek access to shelter and housing, establishing the Disability Rights Initiative
November 2003 – The Public Welfare Foundation provides a new home to the Legal Clinic, inviting us into their True Reformer Building in the Shaw neighborhood of DC
Spring 2004 – District government closes Gales Shelter; begins trend of siting shelters in remote locations towards the fringes of the city
Late 2004 – Agreement reached in Hackett vs. JMC Associates to compensate mental health consumers for theft of funds
December 2004 – DC Court of Appeals establishes the DC Access to Justice Commission to aid in breaking down the barriers that prevent low-income and isolated communities from accessing civil legal assistance
January 2005 – Mayor Williams issues “Homeless No More,” his administration’s 10 year plan to end homelessness
July 2005 – Mayor Williams signs into law the Homeless Services Reform Act, which revamps the legislative framework of the District’s homeless shelter and services system, establishing an Interagency Council on Homelessness and setting out client rights and responsibilities as well as provider standards
September 2005 – Legal Clinic joins with DC Bar Pro Bono Program and Hogan & Hartson to coordinate the Katrina Relief Clinic, to provide legal services to people who relocated to the District from the devastated Gulf Coast
Fall 2005 – Legal Clinic expands efforts to assist homeless children and youth; supports homeless parents’ advocacy efforts as they form SASS (Self-Advocacy, Support and Solutions)
October 2005 – Then-Councilmember Fenty holds unprecedented hearing at DC Village family shelter to get feedback from residents on the quality of services and supports
Winter 2005 – District government closes Randall Shelter
2006 – Legal Clinic participates in Fair Budget Coalition and Affordable Housing Alliance’s successful efforts to establish publicly-funded Emergency Assistance and Rent Supplement programs
Spring 2006 – District government renews threats to close Franklin Shelter
Summer 2006 – Residents of Franklin Shelter form the “Committee to Save Franklin Shelter” to oppose the scheduled closing of the facility
Fall 2006 – Legal Clinic expands our grass roots advocacy efforts to support our clients as they use their voices to speak in the public debates that impact their lives
October 2006 – Deputy Mayor announces that Franklin will remain open and in the homeless services inventory
November/December 2006 – The Legal Clinic co-convenes the Homelessness Work Group of the Fenty Transition team
December 2006 – The Legal Clinic co-leads coalition to advocate for greater accessibility to government services for people with disabilities; the Disability Rights Protection Act becomes law
January 2007 – Mayor Adrian Fenty declares that addressing the needs of people who are homeless is a top priority of his administration
2007 – The Legal Clinic launches Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative advocating for the transition of the District of Columbia’s homeless services system from one that emphasizes emergency shelter, to one that focuses on providing permanent supportive housing options for people who have struggled with homelessness.
2007 – Legal Clinic attorney Scott McNeilly is appointed to the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness
October 2007 – The District Government shuts down DC Village as an emergency shelter for homeless families
April 2008 – Fenty Administration announces its Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative, intended to move people who are chronically homeless off the street and out of shelters into their own housing
September 2008 – The District Government closes the Franklin Shelter, the one remaining men’s emergency shelter in downtown DC
December 10, 2008 – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a consent agreement with the District to improve the accessibility of emergency homeless shelters for people with disabilities. It is the first large-scale enforcement effort by DOJ in the nation intended to protect the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness.
2009 – The Legal Clinic launches Veteran’s Initiative which provides direct legal representation to Veteran’s particularly in the areas of benefits and housing.
July 2009 – The Legal Clinic re-names disability rights initiative The David M. Booth Disability Rights Initiative, to honor the memory of former intern David Booth
December 2009 – The Legal Clinic establishes a social media presence, joining Facebook
July 2010 – The Legal Clinic launches its blog, “…With Housing and Justice for All”
November 2010 – The Legal Clinic’s long time and beloved outreach worker, Mary Ann Luby, O.P., dies
May 2011 – The Legal Clinic’s budget advocacy campaign, the1500.com, successfully advocates for funding to avoid the loss of up to 1500 shelter beds for single individuals
2012 – The Legal Clinic marks its 25th anniversary of serving DC’s homeless residents. A Journey Home, a short film about several Legal Clinic clients and their efforts to secure a stable place to call home is released as a part of the 25th anniversary call-to-action
May 2013 – The Legal Clinic successfully leads a community advocacy effort to prevent harmful changes to the Homeless Services Reform Act
2013 – Mayor Vincent Gray commits $100 million to affordable housing
Attorney/Counsel, Policy and Advocacy | Full-Time, Permanent, D.C.-Based with Remote Work Flexibility | Salary: $70,000+
Case Counseling Attorney | Full-Time, Permanent, D.C.-Based with Remote Work Flexibility | Salary: $67,000+