Photo of Alex Matak

Alex Matak

  • Hosted by National Homelessness Law Center
  • Sponsored by Buckley LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school CUNY School of Law
  • Issue area Civil Rights/Civil Liberties, Housing/Homelessness
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Alex (she/her/hers) works as part of a unique collaboration between organizers—the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)—and attorneys to launch a network of pro bono legal clinics designed to curb the criminalization of homelessness–the House Keys Not Sweeps Legal Defense Clinics (LDCs).

More than 3.5 million people in the U.S. go unhoused annually, a rate that has steadily increased over the past several years and will only keep rising given the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, cities and states across the country are adopting “quality of life” laws—better understood as anti-homeless laws—that criminalize basic survival activities like sleeping, sitting, erecting temporary shelter, asking for money, and even sharing food in public. The scale is massive: every major city in the country currently has several of these laws on the books, leading to hundreds of thousands of citations, tickets, and arrests each year. These laws serve only to trap very poor people in cycles of poverty, and the effects are disproportionately felt by Black, Brown, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQIA communities. The LDCs disrupt these cycles by amplifying on-the-ground legal services for unhoused people through a movement lawyering model while steering aggressive litigation and policy strategies.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Alex has:

  • Worked with a broad network of organizers and attorneys to assess overarching legal needs of local unhoused communities and develop a broad strategic work plan for the LDC project
  • Conducted site visits at organizing partners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland to work towards implementation of the pilot LDC clinics
  • Completed the first 60 pages of a comprehensive legal manual addressing the various federal and state law claims advocates can use to challenge the criminalization of homelessness
  • Developed the foundational materials that will be used as the template for all future LDCs, including outreach and legal manuals, template forms, and mission and structure documents
  • Facilitated the completion of four pro-bono research projects
  • Testified at a D.C. City Council Committee on Health’s Performance Oversight Hearing regarding the legal implications of the City’s program of encampment sweeps

Next Steps

In the next year, Alex plans to:

  • Complete all written materials and training modules that will serve as the foundation for the LDC project
  • Build out a data sharing platform for the LDC network to utilize with the help of her sponsor
  • Launch the first LDC in Portland and prepare for launch in further pilot cities
  • Create a fundraising plan for sustainability


Three Class of 2021 grads have been awarded the Equal Justice Works Fellowship

So-called ‘quality of life’ laws are part of a long legacy of attempts to criminalize poverty, people of color, and homelessness—from anti-Okie laws to Jim Crow, sundown towns, and broken windows policing. These laws deny poor people’s humanity and attack their basic means of life.

Alex Matak /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Alex

View All

Margaret Burgess

Host: Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc.

Sponsor: Cox Enterprises, Eversheds Sutherland

Jason Bailey

Host: Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law

Sponsor: Norflet Progress Fund

Tiara Brown

Host: Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Sponsor: Stinson Leonard Street LLP, The Family of Hyman Edelman

Eugene Chen

Host: New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)

Sponsor: The Paul Rapoport Foundation