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Spring 2025 Seminar

Poverty Law Workshop: Leveraging the Safety Net to Address Homelessness & Advance Equity

Prerequisites: None

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 anti-poverty work and 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 economically vulnerable and marginalized populations – especially 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 (including systemic biases and disparate impact), and identify effective advocacy strategies for public interest attorneys working with low-income clients and people experiencing homelessness. These themes will be explored through 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.

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. The course offers essential information about safety net programs to complement any 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 Massachusetts and our Greater Boston communities.

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.

Students can use this course to satisfy the course requirement for the spring Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinic. Please contact the course instructor for more details.