|Alma mater||Barnard College, Columbia University School of Law|
|Occupation||Founder & Executive Director, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty|
|Known for||National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty|
Maria Foscarinis is the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that serves as the legal arm of the national movement to end homelessness. She was a primary architect of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, now known as the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation resolving homelessness, and has led successful litigation to secure the individual legal rights. Foscarinis writes regularly about legal and policy issues affecting homeless and poor persons, and is frequently in national and local media. In 2016 Foscarinis was awarded the Katharine and George Alexander Law Prize from Santa Clara University School of Law for her work to alleviate injustice and inequity.
Early life and education
Foscarinis grew up in a middle class, Greek immigrant family in Manhattan, New York. Before immigrating to the United States, her family suffered immensely through the German occupation of Greece. Foscarinis's family's experiences, along with her interactions with family and friends from low-income communities in New York, led to her interest in social issues. Foscarinis received her B.A. from Barnard College and received her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law.
Before entering the advocacy field, Foscarinis served as a law clerk to the Honorable Amalya L. Kearse, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1981 to 1982. She was a litigation associate at Sullivan & Cromwell from 1982 to 1985. While at the firm she took a pro bono case representing a class of homeless families who had been denied emergency shelter in a federal court case.
In 1985, Foscarinis left Sullivan & Cromwell and established and directed the Washington, DC office of the National Coalition for the Homeless. She directed campaigns to enact federal legislation to aid homeless people, including the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation to address homelessness. She also successfully litigated federal actions on behalf of homeless people. Foscarinis was featured in a 1986 article in The New York Times Magazine, "The New Social Reformers."
In 1989, she founded the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and currently serves as its executive director. She oversees legislative advocacy at local and national levels to promote new policies, litigation to enforce existing laws, and directs major research reports. Foscarinis is regularly quoted in the media, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, and NPR. She writes a regular blog for The Huffington Post. Foscarinis serves on the Board of Advisers of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and is Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School.
Key published works
- Homelessness: Federal and State Legislative Solutions, in Assisting the Homeless: State and Local Responses in an Era of Limited Resources (1988) (published by Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations)
- "Downward Spiral: Homelessness and Its Criminalization." Yale Law & Policy Review. 14:1 (1996)
- "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Continuing Trend Toward the Criminalization of Homelessness", 6 Geo. J. on Poverty Law & Pol'y 145 (Summer 1999)
- "Homelessness and Human Rights", in ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, Representing the Poor and Homeless (2001)
- "Can I Get Some Remedy?" (co-authored with Eric Tars, Heather Johnson and Tristia Bauman), in Columbia Human Rights Law Review (2014)
- "Homelessness in America: A Human Rights Crisis", 2 J. of Law in Soc'y 515 (2012)
- "The Human Right to Housing", Shelterforce: The Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Building (2011)
- "Alexander Prize to be Awarded to Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty". Santa Clara University School of Law. January 14, 2016.
- "The New Social Reformers". The New York Times. October 26, 1986.
- Baer, Susan (April 22, 1990). "She Gave Up Wall Street to Find Justice". Los Angeles Times.