Alumni Spotlight

Antonia Fasanelli '01: Advocate for the Homeless

by, Leslie Frank

Antonia Fasanelli ’01, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP), learned early about the homeless. Her parents knew people who lived on the street because they struggled with mental illness and weren’t receiving the treatment they needed to function in housing. So as a child, Fasanelli understood one of the reasons that homelessness exists in society.

“My parents instilled in me the importance of taking action when witnessing an injustice,” recalls Fasanelli. “In high school, I worked with homeless children in shelters. In college, I worked with immigrant families, with children of incarcerated parents in New York, and with impoverished families on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.”
She eventually decided to use the law in her efforts to eliminate homelessness and applied to law school while an Americorps*VISTA volunteer at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Fasanelli chose WLC because of the clinics. “There really is no substitute for hands-on experience practicing law,”
she said. “I also knew Professor Susan Bennett, who was a board member of the National Law Center. I thought that if she was at WCL, it must be a good place to be.” She found law school to be an enriching experience and WCL provided a strong foundation for her career. “I continue to seek the advice of my former professors and am delighted when I have the opportunity to collaborate with former classmates and other alumni of WCL,” she added.

During her first year out of law school, Fasanelli was a law clerk to the Honorable Barefoot Sanders, judge of the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Texas. During that year, she was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, funded by Crowell & Moring, LLP, at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “I was at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless for just over five years before I came to the HPRP,” she says.

“While at the Washington Legal Clinic, I learned of HPRP and its outstanding history of addressing systemic causes of homelessness. When I learned that the board and staff of HPRP were ready to reposition the organization to better address the changing needs of the client population, I was excited to be a part of crafting the new vision for the organization.” HPRP, headquartered in Baltimore, focuses on societal issues that can lead to homelessness. It addresses the lack of affordable housing as well as the barrier that criminal histories pose to gaining housing, employment and public assistance.

As executive director, Fasanelli has three primary goals for her first year: to ensure that HPRP is meeting client needs, to reinvigorate the volunteer program and to diversify the funding base. “HPRP has made great strides in each of these goals so far,” notes Fasanelli. “We now have an individual donor campaign up and running, including our own cause on Facebook – “Prevent and Eliminate Homelessness” – and we were also recently awarded a grant from a foundation new to HPRP.”

Despite her busy schedule, Fasanelli still tries to do whatever she can to help WCL and its students. “I come back to the school periodically to speak with students about public interest careers and my work and I have assisted students seeking public interest fellowships,” she explains.