Washington, D.C. Team Advocates for Homeless Families

The confluence of the ongoing economic downturn and uncommonly cold and snowy weather made last winter particularly difficult for homeless families in the nation's capital. Accordingly, members of our Washington, D.C. office decided to focus available resources on addressing those families' needs. Lawyers and staff devoted hundreds of hours to representing individual homeless families in the area. Participating lawyers provided advice, referrals, and representation to those who were denied shelter. Teams bundled up in their warmest winter gear and distributed pamphlets of legal information to families seeking shelter. We also gave donated gloves and jackets to children waiting outside in the cold. And we provided testimony to the D.C. Council on the hardships - both legal and practical - that homeless families face in their quest to obtain safe shelter during freezing conditions.

With the help of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, we also brought a class action lawsuit against the Government of the District of Columbia for its illegal and unsafe placement of homeless families, including small children, into communal accommodations. Under Washington, D.C. law, homeless families are entitled to shelter when the temperature drops below freezing; to protect the families' health and safety, the shelter must be apartment-style housing or private rooms. Despite this explicit legal requirement, the District Government began housing homeless families on cots in gymnasiums in recreation centers, with inadequate safety precautions and no privacy or access to bathing facilities. After a hearing at which members of the class testified as to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions to which their children were exposed in the recreation centers and an expert testified as to the short- and long-term trauma that the children would suffer as a result, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Okun ruled in favor of the families, issuing a preliminary injunction. The District appealed that injunction to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and oral argument took place on 26 September.

"It really impressed me how Hogan Lovells [lawyers] were there at every stage of the process. I know they have put in a lot of work in the courtroom, but they have also spent a lot of time standing outside in the snow and rain to reach as many families as possible at a time when these families are in absolute crisis." Kaitlyn Uhl, Volunteer Coordinator, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

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