S. Homelessness Law and Policy

Course Information

Course Number
Curriculum Level
Areas of Study
Administrative Law and Public Policy, Human Rights, Racial, Economic, and Social Justice

Section 001 Information


Pictured above is Kim Hopper. He is wearing an olive colored button up. He has short white facial hair and medium length white hair. Kim Hopper Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sci, School of Public Health

Section Description

Today, millions of Americans are without the stability of home. Growing numbers are living cars and tents or other encampments, and many more are doubling up. The pandemic threw into sharp relief the life-threatening consequences of the absence of home, and its implications for communities. Increased attention to racial injustice has focused attention on both the disproportionate racial impact of homelessness and its criminalization. But despite popular perception, mass homelessness has not always been with us.

This seminar will examine the growth of modern homelessness from the early 1980s to the present, and its evolution from urgent humanitarian crisis to a seemingly permanent, and increasingly criminalized, feature of American urban life. We will examine its causes, complicating factors, actual/potential solutions, legal and policy issues and strategies, and the role that lawyers and other advocates have played and can play in addressing this critical social problem. We will consider strategies including litigation and legislative, regulatory, and human rights advocacy. Our approach will be interdisciplinary, integrating legal issues with readings and approaches from anthropology and public health, among other disciplines. We will consider homelessness across the US but place a particular focus on New York City. Readings will include court papers and cases, legislation, social science studies, research reports, and policy statements, supplemented by video documentaries and "fieldwork," such as a visit to housing court. A variety of guest speakers including people with lived experience on the street and in shelters as well as those running programs designed to assist them -- will add to our discussions. As long-time activists and scholars, we will also bring our own experience and writings to bear.

Active participation in class discussion, at least six discussion posts based on readings on the class discussion board, one field assignment and write up, and a final paper are expected.

School Year & Semester
Fall 2023
JGH 304
Class meets on
  • Tuesday
4:20 pm - 6:10 pm
Method of Evaluation
J.D Writing Credit?
Minor (automatic)
Major (only upon consultation)
LLM Writing Project
Upon consultation

Learning Outcomes

  • Articulate the history, causes and contours of modern American homelessness, with special reference to New York City
  • Describe, understand and critically assess major legislation and court decisions that address homelessness at the national and local levels
  • Describe and compare legal strategies for addressing homelessness, including litigation as well as legislative, regulatory, and international human rights advocacy
  • Understand legal issues involved in current policy debates on homelessness (such as the criminalization of homelessness and education access for homeless children) and be able to craft and support arguments to address them
  • Critically evaluate empirical claims and proposed legislative remedies regarding homelessness in New York State

Course Limitations

Instructor Pre-requisites
Instructor Co-Requisites
Recommended Courses
Other Limitations
Open to Columbia University full-time graduate degree candidates (e.g., from SIPA, Mailman, Social Work, and others)