Mission and History

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice. Over our 50-year history, we have secured hundreds of victories with and for people living in poverty in Illinois and across the country. Today, we litigate, shape policy, and train and convene multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders, and activists nationwide. Together, we are building a future where all people have equal dignity, respect, and power under the law.

As an attorney, our founder, Sargent Shriver understood the role of the law and of lawyers in accomplishing the goal of equal justice and opportunity for low-income communities. Sarge had a vision of recruiting and supporting sufficient numbers of legal services attorneys to provide reasonable access to an attorney for all low-income people in the country. He also thought that these attorneys should be linked together so that, to the extent possible, they would function as a national law firm for the poor (as opposed to isolated attorneys in scattered storefronts in low-income neighborhoods). The glue for this national law firm was the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services, which published Clearinghouse Review, containing action research for lawyers, and maintained a brief bank with hundreds of thousands of poverty law documents that the attorneys could tap for ideas and models, mutual learning and strategizing.

In 2003, Shriver gave his name and personal authority to a new project, the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, formerly the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services. It is dedicated to the practice and perpetuation of Sarge’s values-driven methods for bringing the law to bear on community-generated issues involving equal opportunity and social justice. Today, the Shriver Center continues to support and enable the work of other advocates, and engages directly in policy and systemic advocacy on behalf of low-income people and communities across the country. 

Our Mission

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty.

Our Vision

Our vision is a nation free from poverty with justice, equality, and opportunity for all.

Our Values

We believe in organizational excellence at all levels, grounded in these core values and measured against progress toward our mission to guide our path to success. We hold ourselves accountable to individuals experiencing poverty and injustice, our partners, and our colleagues to carry out our work consistently with these values:

Centered on People and Communities

We work with and for the people we serve. We help communities win law, policy, and systemic changes to promote equity and pathways out of poverty.

Justice for All

We pursue justice for all by providing high quality legal representation and advocacy to people in poverty regarding the laws, public policies, and systems that constrain and diminish—but also improve and support—their lives and opportunities. We believe justice for all is significantly advanced when people in poverty help shape the laws and policies that govern their lives and have strong opportunities for upward mobility.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

We forcefully address the most salient feature of poverty in America—race. Advancing racial equity is essential to promoting justice. We also recognize that inclusion of diverse voices, perspectives and experiences is essential to understanding and addressing complex issues in our advocacy and within our organization.

Accountable Leadership

We recognize our role as a trusted organization. We take it as our responsibility to listen to the communities we serve, be accountable to them, be a good steward, and deploy our full advocacy toolbox toward accomplishment of our mission. We commit to develop a pipeline of new leaders equipped to continue the work successfully.

Our 50 Years of Impact

  • Secured healthcare for 3.1 million low-income Medicaid recipients by ensuring payment to their healthcare providers through enforcement of the consent decree in Cohen v. Miller
  • Led the fight for Illinois’ recently enacted $15 minimum wage, which will lift more than 200,000 workers out of poverty. 
  • Led advocacy for the Just Housing Amendment, which will open up access to housing for more than a million Cook County residents and their families. 
  • Led advocacy for the Hot Meals for Hungry Illinoisans Act, which will make it possible for elderly, disabled, and homeless individuals to use their SNAP benefits to purchase hot meals at grocery stores and restaurants. 
  • Lead the Racial Justice Institute, our groundbreaking national leadership program, which has trained and supported a network of more than 200 advocates from 80 organizations in 27 states. 
  • Lead and coordinate the Legal Impact Network, a dynamic collaborative of 38 state-based advocacy organizations from across the country working to end poverty and achieve racial justice. 
  • Lead and support the Partnership for Just Housing, a multi-state collaborative of advocates working to end housing discrimination against individuals who have been involved in the criminal legal system. 

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