Sara Rankin

Sara Rankin

Professor of Law

 Sullivan Hall 117


Email Sara


  • Legal Writing
  • Homeless Rights Advocacy


  • J.D., New York University
  • M.Ed., Harvard Graduate School of Education


Professor Rankin is a national expert on legal and policy issues relating to people experiencing homelessness. She is the founder and Director of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP). at the Korematsu Center. Through HRAP, Professor Rankin oversees various projects to advance the civil, constitutional, and human rights of visibly poor people. HRAP also builds partnerships across a broad range of disciplines with community members, advocates, academic institutions, and other stakeholders. Each year, HRAP releases a series of new reports that continue the group's groundbreaking research into laws that unfairly target the visibly poor. HRAP's reports examine the impacts of increasingly popular laws and policies that criminalize homelessness, such as prohibitions on sitting, standing and sleeping in public; living in vehicles; sweeps of tent encampments; pet ownership standards; and barriers to access at emergency shelters. HRAP's research not only identifies problematic laws and policies, but also offers effective, legally sound alternatives. HRAP's award-winning work has been praised by legal aid organizations, services providers, non-profits, city officials, and street activist organizations for its impact.

Professor Rankin is also co-founder and co-chair of the Third Door Coalition, an unlikely alliance of Seattle researchers, service providers, and business leaders advancing permanent supportive housing (PSH) as the most humane and cost-effective solution to unsheltered chronic homelessness. She is a member of the Leadership Committee of the Lived Experience Coalition and serves their designee on the King County Regional Homelessness Authority's Implementation Board . She is an active participant in five other boards, including serving as co-president of the board for the new community street newspaper, Dignity City, as well serving on the advisory board for We Are In, the King County Public Defense Advisory Board and the National Homelessness Law Center Board.

Before teaching, Professor Rankin earned nearly a decade of experience in private practice at major law firms such as Kirkland & Ellis, LLP and Sidley Austin, LLP, where she specialized in complex litigation. She also gained an in-house perspective, serving as assistant general counsel for a national accounting firm.

Prior to her legal career, Professor Rankin received her M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Professor Rankin's teaching and scholarship interests include the social and political aspects of legal education reform, lawyering skills, legal and policy issues relating to people experiencing homelessness, and policy advocacy.



  • Hiding Homelessness: The Transcarceration of Homelessness, 109 Cal. L. Rev. 559 (2021).
  • Civilly Criminalizing Homelessness, 56 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L Rev. 368 (2021) (solicited).
  • Punishing Homelessness, 22 New Crim. L. Rev. 99 (January 2019) (invited).
  • The Influence of Exile, 76 Md. L. Rev. 4 (2016) (reviewed in Jotwell, October 26, 2016; response piece from Professor Bill Quigley, The Influence of Exile: Three Stories, 76 Md. L. Rev. 47 (2017)).
  • A Homeless Bill of Rights (Revolution), 45 Seton Hall L. Rev. 383 (2015).
  • Invidious Deliberation: The Problem of Congressional Bias in Federal Hate Crime Legislation, 66 Rutgers L. Rev. 563 (2014).

Books, Symposia, Professional Publications & Other Works

  • Homeless Advocacy (Carolina Press, forthcoming Fall 2022). Co-author and editor of chapter entitled, Yes in My Backyard: Building ADUs to Address Homelessness.
  • Legal Writing Sourcebook (3d ed. 2019) (invited). Co-author of chapter entitled, Innovation and Activities Beyond the Classroom with Mary Bowman and Heather Baxter.
  • The New 1L: Teaching First- Year Students To Be Lawyers Through Actual Practice (Carolina Academic Press, April 2015) (co-editor and contributing author). Other contributors include Erwin Chemerinsky (Irvine), Michael Wishnie (Yale), Michael Millemann (Maryland), Stephen Schwinn (John Marshall), Nantiya Ruan (Denver).
  • Homeless Rights Advocacy Project Report Series (editor of annual reports). Available at
  • Homeless Bills of Rights: An Advocate’s Guide (co-authored report with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty) (released April 2014).
  • The Fully Formed Lawyer: Why Law Schools Should Require Public Service to Better Prepare Students for Private Practice, 17 Chapman L. Rev. 17 (2013) (invited symposium submission).
  • We Have a Dream: Integrating Skills Courses in the First Year of Law School (and Beyond), 17 Chapman L. Rev. 89 (2013) (with others) (invited symposium submission).
  • Tired of Talking: A Call for Clear Strategies for Legal Education Reform- Moving Beyond the Discussion of Good Ideas to the Real Transformation of Law Schools, 10 Seattle J. Soc. Just. 11 (2011).
  • Rethinking Neutrality: Race and ADR, Dispute Res. J. 40 (August 1999).

Online Publications

  • Opinion: Seattle must invest in housing to solve chronic homelessness, November 19, 2018 | Puget Sound Business Journal
  • Criminalizing homelessness is not just cruel: it's costly, too, July 25, 2018 | CityMetric
  • Criminalizing Homelessness Doesn’t Work, June 20, 2018 | City Lab
  • Why turning homelessness into a crime is cruel and costly, June 20, 2018 | The Conversation
  • America’s Love Affair with Property Fails to Appreciate Its Troubling Origins, April 11, 2018 | Real Change
  • Criminalizing Visual Poverty—the Effects of Making Homelessness a Crime, November 21, 2016 | Jurist
  • Should Homelessness Be a Crime? Our State Grapples with Its Answer, August 27, 2004 | Firesteel


In the News

Cities continue to pass homeless camping ordinances

August 11, 2022 | OPB Think Out Loud

Professor Sara Rankin discusses the current legal framework for cities addressing homelessness. 

Tiny home villages a potential solution to Spokane's homeless crisis

May 19, 2022 |  KREM

In Seattle, 1 in 5 people booked into jail are homeless

February 19, 2019 | Crosscut

Social services would be more effective and less costly than jail, says Professor Sara Rankin.

Director's Corner: We care more about optics than homeless people

January 02, 2019 | Real Change News

Professor Sara Rankin is quoted in this editorial criticizing Seattle's strategy to combat homelessness.

For Californians living in their cars, a church parking lot can briefly be home

November 28, 2018 | The Washington Post

Professor Sara Rankin says many religions focus on ministering to the poor.

The Homeless Crisis Is Getting Worse in America's Richest Cities

November 20, 2018 | Bloomberg Businessweek

Professor Sara Rankin says inaction actually costs more than spending money to solve homelessness.

More Homeless Seattleites Live in Their Vehicles Than Ever Before

November 20, 2018 | Seattle Met

Professor Sara Rankin says the city has failed to create safe, effective policy for allowing vehicle residency.

Opinion: Seattle must invest in housing to solve chronic homelessness

November 19, 2018 | Puget Sound Business Journal

Professor Sara Rankin and business owner Chad Mackay write that Seattle's budget needs more funding for homelessness.

Seattle council eyes $16 million in budget tweaks, but no head tax, no big tent shelter

November 08, 2018 | The Seattle Times

Professor Sara Rankin says the city's budget shows a fear of dealing with homelessness.

King County will open west wing of downtown Seattle jail as shelter

October 11, 2018 | The Seattle Times

Professor Sara Rankin says permanent supportive housing is needed more than temporary shelter.

West coast cities try to skirt judge's ruling preventing them from criminalizing homeless camps

September 14, 2018 | ThinkProgress

City officials say the ruling doesn't affect Seattle, but Professor Sara Rankin begs to differ.

Federal-court ruling on homeless camps won't affect Seattle, city attorney says

September 07, 2018 | The Seattle Times

Professor Sara Rankin analyzes whether an unconstitutional Boise law is relevant to Seattle.

Sweeping tents illegal without 'practical' alternatives, court rules

September 05, 2018 | KUOW

Would a Boise ruling affect Seattle? Professor Sara Rankin offers her thoughts.

Think Out Loud: Homelessness Ruling

September 05, 2018 | Oregon Public Broadcasting

Cities can no longer pretend sweeps are effective, says Professor Sara Rankin.

Court: Cities can't prosecute people for sleeping on streets

September 04, 2018 | The Seattle Times

The appeals court ruling makes common sense, says Professor Sara Rankin.

Supporting homeless individuals: How much do we spend?

August 31, 2018 | Crosscut

Professor Sara Rankin says there's a substantial cost to ignoring homelessness.

Wright on Center: Let's fund and build housing to end homelessness in Seattle and King County

August 24, 2018 | Puget Sound Business Journal

Permanent supportive housing can help end homelessness, says a member of the civic alliance co-founded by Professor Sara Rankin.

In a Growing Crisis, Seattle Uses City Hall as a Homeless Shelter

August 23, 2018 | City Lab

Professor Sara Rankin says the city needs a coherent, effective plan for homelessness.

Seattle increasing removals of homeless encampments

August 22, 2018 | The Seattle Times

Sweeps create the illusion that homelessness is dealt with when it isn't, says Professor Sara Rankin.

Seattle parks volunteers go to repair habitat, and find tent camps

August 08, 2018 | The Seattle Times

The city's lack of shelter options forces residents to camp outdoors, says Professor Sara Rankin.

More Americans are forced to "reside" in their vehicles

July 31, 2018 | CBS News

Professor Sara Rankin says the problem is national in scope, but felt most acutely in urban areas.

Criminalising homelessness is not just cruel: it's costly, too

July 25, 2018 | CityMetric

Professor Sara Rankin says anti-vagrancy laws make homelessness worse.

'It's the New Form of Affordable Housing': More Homeless People Are Living in Their Cars

July 24, 2018 | Governing

Professor Sara Rankin calls on cities to develop effective "safe parking" plans.

Business leaders and service providers form coalition to end chronic homelessness in Seattle

July 23, 2018 | Puget Sound Business Journal

Professor Sara Rankin and business executive Chad Mackay announce effort to tackle chronic homelessness.

New civic alliance aims to end Seattle's chronic homelessness with a focus on single adults

July 19, 2018 | Seattle University School of Law News Center

After head tax repeal, new group emerges to fight homelessness

July 19, 2018 | Crosscut

Professor Sara Rankin says people need educated, not emotional, responses to homelessness.

Why turning homelessness into a crime is cruel and costly

June 20, 2018 | The Conversation

Professor Sara Rankin co-authors an essay calling on cities to change laws on homelessness.