Skip to content

Spring 2022 Seminar

Poverty Law Workshop: A Toolkit for Addressing Inequity & Homelessness

Prerequisites: None. The course is an optional co-requisite for students enrolled in the Safety Net Project of the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. Clinic students may enroll in this Poverty Law Workshop as an alternative to the “Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinical Seminar” that is otherwise required for students in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs will coordinate your registration in this workshop if you are enrolled in the clinic.

Exam Type: No Exam

Low-income Americans, especially those experiencing homelessness, must contend with a vast patchwork of federal and state public benefits programs. This course will provide an essential grounding in these safety net programs for law students interested in public interest law careers, including future legal aid attorneys, public defenders, policy advocates, government leaders, and attorneys engaging in pro bono work.

The primary objective of this course is to examine the unique legal issues of the most economically vulnerable and marginalized populations – those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity – and consider whether the legal system provides access to justice in the programs that make up our social safety net. We will look at the forces creating homelessness and economic distress, discuss the historical and contemporary challenges of safety net programs, and identify effective advocacy strategies for public interest attorneys working with low-income clients and people experiencing homelessness. These themes will be explored through substantive trainings, readings, discussions, presentations by experts and service providers, and in-class exercises. Each week, we will provide substantive legal trainings in key state and federal safety net programs such that, by the end of the course, students will have a strong foundational knowledge of public assistance programs that will enhance students’ ability to work with low-income clients or people experiencing homelessness. The course concludes with an examination of state and national campaigns to reform our safety net programs, including the influence of political forces on both the right and the left, and a discussion of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

This course is designed to help students engage in critical thinking and develop practical skills for working directly with low-income clients and those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and to inform and contextualize substantive law and policy reform discussions on the topics covered. It is offered as a resource for essential core information about safety net programs to complement a particular substantive course of study that an individual law student may be pursuing (for example in Environmental Law, or Tax Law), and also as a complement to Clinical or Student Practice Organization experiences. While we will be discussing national programs and trends, the course will focus at various points on the unique issues facing local people experiencing homelessness in our Boston community.

Students will be expected to engage in discussions with their peers and guest speakers in class, master the basic rules of safety net programs discussed in class, participate in in-class exercises, and create and present an advocacy plan responding to a particular policy issue or on behalf of a client. Specifically, non-clinical students will design a proposal to address a particular policy challenge within a safety net program, detailing their proposal’s goals and the advocacy strategies they would employ. Clinical students will present questions about their direct work with clients in their Clinic cases, as they relate to the programs and policies discussed in class, and propose advocacy plans to assist their clients or the broader community.