Basic Human Needs Project

The Basic Human Needs Project (BHN) works to safeguard essential benefits and rights for all low-income people. Through administrative and legislative advocacy, negotiation and litigation, our work safeguards access to food, health care, child care, emergency financial assistance, safe housing, and protection from exploitation or abuse. BHN is dedicated to the principle that every person in Washington should be able to lead a productive, meaningful, and dignified life.

Our team is helping thousands of people access essential hospital care services, protecting developmentally disabled and vulnerable persons living in group homes, and providing justice for indigenous and Spanish-speaking people living in manufactured home communities. We are leading the way on policy advocacy before administrative agencies and the state legislature to help those who struggle daily to meet basic human needs.

Fighting the Criminalization of Poverty

Over the last 15 years, local authorities enacted more than 288 laws designed to punish visibly poor people for trying to survive on the streets. The Basic Human Needs Project and the Economic Justice Project are joining forces with partners to challenge discriminatory policies and measures that criminalize essential life activities such as sleeping, sitting, or simply asking for change. More

Ensuring Access to Healthcare & Hospital Care

Many hospitals in Washington were routinely denying low-income patients access to free or reduced-cost care for income-eligible people by screening for citizenship status. As a result, immigrant patients faced crushing debts they were often unable to pay. The Basic Human Needs Project, along with Alliance partners and others, identified improper denials of "charity care" (required free services from hospitals who receive government subsidies) as an important issue for our client communities. We are working to ensure that all Washington residents can access life-saving treatment, regardless of income or citizenship status. More

Too many low-income families in Washington State face barriers when health problems arise, a primary obstacle being cost. The cost of medical services, especially during emergencies, shouldn’t prohibit people from seeking hospital care. Columbia Legal Services, working closely with patients and allies, aims to help break down these barriers to affordable health care so all families can thrive. In June 2016, patient advocates with the Basic Needs and Economic Justice projects working with co-counsel launched the Fair Access to Hospital Care campaign and announced a class action lawsuit against Northwest Hospital in Seattle, Washington for failing to meet its responsibility to screen patients for Charity Care. More

Exposing Abuse and Neglect at Group Homes

Prompted by the tragic death of a client, we joined forces with Disability Rights Washington (DRW) and attorneys from the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP, who provided pro bono assistance, to investigate conditions in Washington's supported living homes. We collaborated with DRW to expose problems of negligence and poor quality care often faced by vulnerable elderly and developmentally disabled adults in segments of the assisted living system. In response to the subsequent report, "Too Little Too Late," the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) issued an action plan to improve conditions and increase protections for the vulnerable.

Protecting the Office of Public Guardianship

Together with the Elder Law section of the state bar, CLS worked to establish the Office of Public Guardianship. Our continuing advocacy for implementation of the Office preserves the dignity of low-imcome people who are unable to protect themselves and their interests. More

Senior Bulletins: Accessing Benefits

In 2016 the federal government made changes to the standards relating to Social Security, SSI & SSP, and Medicare. The following links will direct you to the relevant senior bulletin on the website:

There were no substantive changes made to the Medicaid standards in January, 2016, so the following publications related to Medicaid are current. They are also posted on the website and CLS updates them regularly: