Stay Connected Donate
Home | About Western Center

Western Center on Law & Poverty was formed in 1967 by a passionate group of attorneys and legal scholars from USC, UCLA and Loyola law schools who sought to create a unique organization, driven by the belief that low-income Californians deserve the finest possible legal representation before every institution that shapes their lives.  In 1972, we opened our Sacramento office, establishing the first capital legislative office in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the interests of the poor.

In the more than five decades since, Western Center has advocated on behalf of individuals with low incomes in every branch of California government—from the courts to the Legislature. Through the lens of economic and racial justice, we litigate, educate and advocate around health care, housing, and public benefits policies and administration.

Many systems keep Californians in poverty – from institutionalized racism to unjust and unequal economic structures. We address those factors in every aspect of our work, and call out the ways that they oppress Californians living in poverty.

Our History

1967

Western Center is founded

1971

The CA Supreme Court rules a school finance system may not discriminate against children from low-wealth school districts (Serrano v. Priest)

1972

Western Center opens its Sacramento office

1979

150,000 tenants in the nation receive $59 million in rent refunds; largest U.S. class action settlement on behalf of indigent individuals (Underwood v. Pierce)

1985

The CA Supreme Court holds that requiring indigent adults to live in a county "poorhouse" violates their constitutional right to privacy (Robbins v. County of Sacramento)

1987

Court of Appeal holds that homeless children may not be denied emergency shelter, leading to our sponsored homeless assistance legislation (Hansen v. Dept. of Social Services)

1987

A county may no deny General Assistance benefits to homeless people who lack a fixed residence (Nelson v. Board of Supervisors)

1991

Hundreds of thousands of women win improved prenatal care and 4 million people gain greater rights to dental care (Clark v. Kizer)

1995

$600 million in public assistance benefits preserved for millions of Californians (Beno v. Shalala)

1999

CA Supreme Court holds a county must provide last resort medical care to those who can't afford it (Hunt v. Superior Court)

2002

Western Center sponsors successful $2.1 billion affordable housing bond measure

2003

L.A. County foster care system transformed (Katie A. v. Bonta)

2004

Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, providing residential services for thousands of severely disabled people, kept open (Rodde v. Bonta)

2004

Ninth Circuit affirmed tenants' right to enforce federal relocation assistance laws and prohibit displacing residents until benefits are paid (Price v. Stockton Redevelopment Agency)

2005

Court of Appeal holds that county health care must be made available to working poor (Alford v. City of San Diego)

2009

Western Center sponsored bill requiring 60 days' notice in no-fault evictions signed into law

2011

Sacramento mandated to provide mental health services to 10,000 chronically ill residents (Napper v. County of Sacramento)

2012

Halted CA's illegal practice of forcing children to repay the old welfare debts of their parents or guardians (Hartley v. Lightbourne)

2013

Landmark launch of Affordable Care Act brings health care to millions of Californians

2014

After 17 years of advocacy, CA's lifetime ban on receiving welfare for people with prior drug-related convictions was repealed

2015

Western Center successfully challenged racially discriminatory traffic fines and fees practices, leading to an amnesty plan, the right to challenge tickets, and the restoration of thousands of licenses

2016

The repeal of the Maximum Family Grant rule provides basic needs benefits for 130,000 low-income children previously excluded from critical programs

2016

Co-sponsored the successful Minimum Wage bill, raising basic wages to $15 per hour by 2021

2017

Western center played a critical role in the passage of an unprecedented package of affordable housing bills, six of which we directly sponsored