Revamped Website, Same Great Blog

To our faithful blog followers: The Legal Clinic has launched a revamped website which now hosts our blog. All email subscribers will be automatically transferred over and will continue to receive email notification of new posts. If, however, you view us in the Reader, you will still see new posts in the Reader but will not receive email updates unless you subscribe to receive those on our new site. You can re-subscribe at our new blog.  Thanks for your partnership and support in making “housing and justice for all” a reality here in DC.

Posted in Non Profit, Take Action, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Memoriam

Homeless Memorial Candles (2)Tomorrow, December 21st, is the Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year.  It’s also National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a day of observance for those who have passed away while experiencing homelessness.

Last night, The People For Fairness Coalition held an overnight vigil in Freedom Plaza for the lives lost this year in the District and to stand in support of affordable housing programs that could ensure that no man, woman, or child has to die while living on the street or in shelters.

Today, the National Coalition for the Homeless and other members of the community will come together to honor and celebrate the memories of these men and women. Services will begin at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (1313 New York Avenue, NW) at noon, and a walking memorial procession will follow from 1pm-2pm.

The Legal Clinic honors the lives of all the men and women below and will continue to advocate for a right to housing so that soon there will be no names to read.

In Memoriam

Graddy Baxter
Christian Blake
Larry Bowles
Bruce Crayton
Gwendolyn Dawkins
Eloise “El” Early
Patrick Early
Howard Franklin
Andrew Shepherd Green
Allison Lee
Jefferson McNair
Johnny Molloy
Manuel Morales
Thomas Norman
Michael Richardson
Johnny Carlyn Rossettos, Sr. (“Charlie Noodles”)
Elgin Sanders
Joyner Savage
Pedro Sorto
Sheila Young
David Waters
Paul Wayne White
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

DC Just Passed Great Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Days Bills!

We want to congratulate our allies who lead the fight for fair wages and protections for DC workers, and in so doing, have gotten us one step closer to a just and inclusive DC! 

The following is cross-posted from the Employment Justice Center’s blog. The original can be found here.  

Congratulations to all DC workers and to the advocates who helped push the DC Council to pass unanimously the Fair Minimum Wage Act and Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 today without allowing the bills to be weakened by amendments.

Although news reports have shared some of the highlights of the worker protection bills just passed by the DC Council, here are some of the details, which weren’t always covered.

Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill increases the minimum wage, which is currently $8.25, to $11.50 in three steps:

  • $9.50 on July 1, 2014
  • $10.50 on July 1, 2015
  • $11.50 on July 1, 2016

Just as importantly, starting on July 1, 2017 and every July 1 thereafter, the bill requires that the minimum wage be increased to reflect changes in the cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index in the Washington Area. This will stop the real value of the minimum wage from declining over time, which is a big reason why we keep having to fight to raise it.

Finally, although the bill unfortunately does not raise the base minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers (which stands at a paltry $2.77 an hour and hopefully will be raised through other legislation), it does require that employers of tipped workers verify and certify every quarter that all of their employees do end up making at least the full minimum wage through a combination of their base wages and tips actually received. This will hopefully reduce one form of wage theft, which is common in the restaurant industry, where employees are not compensated when their tips are short for the week and don’t make up the difference between $2.77 and the full minimum wage.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill extends protections to more than 20,000 new workers as well as beefing up enforcement to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered actually are able to get the leave they earn under the law. The bill as a whole will  go into effect once funds for implementation are included in DC’s budget this Spring.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends the guarantee to cover tipped restaurant workers, who were carved out by an amendment when the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act passed in 2008. The bill guarantees that these workers will receive their normal base wage or the full minimum wage (currently $8.25) for each hour of leave they use, whichever is higher. They will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year.

No More Year of Waiting for Leave

Current law allows employers to wait a whole year before letting their employees accrue even a single sick day. The bill passed today would guarantee that workers in all industries can start earning sick days from their first day on the job and could start using them after 90 days and would close a loophole where workers could be fired and then rehired in order to cancel their accrued leave. Especially in high turnover industries like child-care, cleaning, security, construction, and restaurants, these changes are huge wins!

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the Office of Wage-Hour or suing in court. Either way, in addition to any lost pay for the days they took off, they would be owed $500 in damages for each day they were forced to work instead of taking leave they had earned, interest for pay owed, reinstatement if they were fired or demoted for taking leave, and attorneys fees and court costs to help enable them to bring a claim.

Workers will have three years to file a claim and longer if their employer failed to post the required notice of paid sick leave rights. Businesses will be required to keep records of hours worked and leave accrued for at least that long and, if they fail to keep required records, employees’ testimony about the failure to be paid leave will be presumed true. The District government will also be able to assess enforcement costs and $1000 or higher civil penalties for violations as well as suspend business licenses until the violations are cured.

To encourage employees to come forward and speak out about violations, the bill includes strong retaliation protections not only when workers file official complaints, but also when they advocate for their rights directly to their supervisor, share information during an investigation, or share information about the right to sick leave with their co-workers.

Public Education

Finally, the bill provides for a public education campaign to ensure workers and employers know about the new law and comply with it.

Posted in Budget Cuts, DC Policies and Plans, Law, Wealth Gap | Leave a comment

Thankful to Have a Home for the Holidays

In April of 2012, Charmaine Walton wrote a guest blog for us with a simple, straightforward plea: “Help me get affordable housing.” Charmaine’s story is one of strength, perseverance in the face of enormous challenge, and ultimately, of hope. With assistance from the Legal Clinic and thanks to a housing voucher through the Local Rent Supplement Program, Charmaine and her daughter Morgan were able to move into their own apartment in March of 2013.

We recently caught up with Charmaine and asked her to share what she and her daughter are most thankful for this Thanksgiving:

                Last week, my daughter Morgan and I made chili together in our kitchen. That doesn’t sound very exciting, or like something to build a story around, but just over a year and a half ago, it was something I could only dream about. Morgan was in charge of adding the onions, grilled hamburger meat, and the tomatoes to the crock pot. She helped me stir, and I taught her the secret ingredient: sugar. Morgan doesn’t even like onions, but she ate so much of that chili because she took pride in making it. 

That pride in my daughter’s eyes is worth everything we’ve had to go through to get here. When we were in shelter, it was a struggle to protect Morgan from everything we were facing. I remember traveling across town, taking three different buses to get her to school each day, and sitting outside the school all day waiting for her to get out. It was important to me that she never miss a day of school, but I didn’t have the energy to make that travel more than twice a day. My body wasn’t strong enough because of a lack of proper nutrition. I had nowhere to cook wholesome meals.

I remember my dream for Morgan to have a stable roof over her head, and a bedroom to call her own. It’s what kept me fighting when I was at my lowest and my health was deteriorating. I’m so thankful that my daughter and I have a home now. I ask Morgan how she feels about it, and she says, “it’s nice and warm.”

Every child deserves a nice and warm home. Children are not supposed to move around so much. When my daughter is older, I want her to be able to look back and say, “this is where I grew up,” not, “these are all the different places I grew up.” DC is my home and has been since birth. I want it to be my daughter’s home, too. My home is changing, but sadly, it’s not changing to help everyone. People need to stop believing this myth that poor people just want someone to take care of them.

I woke up one day and learned I had Multiple Sclerosis. I didn’t plan it, and it’s changed my life. Now, I’m rebuilding, and my struggle is not over. My apartment needs major repairs and my landlord isn’t always responsive. Even though having a home has helped me focus on my own health, I still have setbacks. I’m in school now, studying for an applied sciences degree because I want to be a nurse, but I also need to provide for my daughter now, so I’m job hunting. The thing is, I know it’s all going to be ok, because at least I have a roof over my head.

I’m thankful, because I have lights to turn on, and they work! I’m thankful that I have a place to wash clothes! I’m thankful we’re warm. And I’m thankful that this holiday season, Morgan and I can decorate our apartment and sit back and relax. That my daughter is happy because her mom can cook for her all day.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity to give back to my community, to help others by sharing my experience. I want an outlet where I can talk to everyday people and to DC government leaders about the challenges that families are facing — about access to better education and to affordable housing.

I’m thankful for my voice. And I plan to keep using it.

The Legal Clinic is thankful for Charmaine and for all of our inspiring clients who remind us on a daily basis why we must continue the fight for justice. We also want to extend a special thank you to our volunteers whose dedication of time and talent assures that our clients get the most effective representation, to our board members who work diligently to get us the resources we need to do our work, and to our donors, whose generosity makes our work possible.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

Posted in Clients, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | Leave a comment

No Guarantee of Shelter for Homeless Youth in Winter Plan

Last Wednesday, November 13, the Interagency Council on Homelessness convened a special meeting to discuss and vote on the addendum to the District’s Winter Plan that would guide how homeless youth should be served this winter. The Legal Clinic, along with many others in the community, had expressed concern that the prior draft did not adequately plan to meet the need of unaccompanied youth, and that no District agency was embracing responsibility for serving these children in need if they were on the street with no safe place to stay in freezing temperatures.

From the Legal Clinic’s perspective, we were particularly concerned that DC government officials believed that unaccompanied homeless youth have no legal right to shelter when it is below freezing, unlike every other homeless person. The Department of Human Services had released a “framework” document implying that this population was not entitled to the legal protections of the Homeless Services Reform Act, and the agency also released an “open letter” to the DC Council indicating only that “some advocates believe” that this population is entitled to shelter on freezing nights.

That worried us. The Winter Plan has always been the implementation document for the right to shelter in below-freezing temperatures, with the explicit statement throughout that more space will be acquired if the plan fails accurately to anticipate the need. But this year, the Administration presented the Interagency Council with a draft plan for homeless youth that advocates and youth providers worried would not meet the need, without any corresponding commitment that no homeless youth would be forced to sleep outside in freezing conditions this winter if the plan ultimately turned out to be inadequate.

Scott McNeilly, our Legal Clinic staff attorney who sits on the Interagency Council on Homelessness, proposed the following amendment to the youth section of the Winter Plan:

“The right to shelter during a hypothermia alert applies to all District residents who cannot access other housing arrangements, including unaccompanied youth. If for some reason the resources outlined in this protocol do not meet the need for this population, then the District will respond accordingly to ensure that no homeless youth is in danger of hypothermia this winter season.”

Out of all the Interagency Council members, only Scott McNeilly and Luis Vasquez of Catholic Charities voted for this amendment, i.e. to affirm the legal right of homeless youth to safe shelter on freezing nights. The amendment failed, and the Winter Plan passed as proposed with no such assurance. The Plan that passed does include an additional six beds to serve youth, but these beds are not expected to go online until at least January.

Ultimately, it is the Homeless Services Reform Act that establishes legal rights, not the Winter Plan. And ultimately, it is the Court’s interpretation that counts, not the ICH’s. As lawyers, we stand ready to fight for those youth to access basic lifesaving emergency shelter this winter, and we welcome any youth to contact us directly for representation.

In the meantime, we urge you to join Covenant House Washington and other community partners for a Candle Light Vigil for homeless youth this Thursday, November 21, at 7:00 P.M. at 2001 Mississippi Ave, SE. Homeless youth need your support now more than ever.

Posted in Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Hypothermia, Law, Shelter, Uncategorized | Leave a comment