Wins and losses? It’s about way more than that.
We’ve just had two big wins for homeless children.
We won a great settlement in our lawsuit against a suburban Pittsburgh school district and the state of Pennsylvania, working in partnership with Education Law Center, a Pennsylvania group. The school district had tried to remove the children from school, claiming that they did not live in the district because they slept overnight in a different school district than the one they received services from during the day. Under our settlement, the state issued new guidelines making clear that homeless children with any substantial connection to a school district are legally entitled to immediate enrollment.
In a second Pennsylvania victory, again working with the Education Law Center, we won a preliminary injunction from a federal district court ordering a suburban school outside of Harrisburg to re-enroll a homeless youth.
But we also had a big disappointment in a federal court suit we filed in St. Petersburg, Florida, together with Southern Legal Counsel, challenging that city’s efforts to criminalize its homeless residents. We voluntarily dismissed two claims in our case following a prior unfavorable ruling by the judge. While we’re still considering an appeal on the claims previously dismissed, we’re obviously disappointed.
Still, it’s not just about the legal battles. It’s also about hearts and minds. This past Monday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed an editorial praising our settlement on behalf of homeless children. That’s really great, because while the law is a powerful tool, we must also have the support of the public to achieve justice and, ultimately, end homelessness in America.
The press also covered our St. Pete’s suit, and some of the comments in response made my skin crawl. If you believe that homeless people are human beings who deserve dignity and respect, they’ll do the same to you.
In fact, that’s what law and legal advocacy are about to me. Ultimately, the point is not just winning lawsuits or even getting new laws passed. At its best, law is about seeking justice and fairness in how we treat each other, as fellow human beings.
-Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director