Some of the most vulnerable clients we assist are those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Helping them preserve housing, keep or get benefits, and resolve other problems strengthens not only the individuals but our communities as a whole. We work with a number of organizations serving this population around the country.
Downtown Emergency Services Center - Seattle
For many years we’ve been sending a team of lawyers and legal staff to this large homeless shelter every month to meet with shelter residents. We listen to their legal problems, which may include landlord/tenant disputes, issues for small claims court, resolving payment of legal costs and fees.
This year, among other clients, we met a young man who had arrived in Seattle from the Midwest in late 2014 to look for a job. Shortly afterward, his job offer fell through and his money was swindled by a dishonest landlord when he entered into a verbal rental agreement to rent and live aboard a boat moored in a marina. Once he’d paid most of the money he had for first and last month’s rent and deposit, he moved onboard, only to learn that living aboard a moored boat was not permitted by the marina. Eventually the marina manager kicked him out, forcing him to leave his belongings behind.
When we met him he was living at a homeless shelter and working 12 to 15 hours a day as a day laborer. Our lawyers Brooke Howlett and Lisa Koperski provided legal assistance in his dispute with the landlord. Paralegal Andrea Carino and Seattle office facilities manager Lisa Wabik were able to help him with retrieving his belongings and storing them at the law firm temporarily. Over the months of assisting him, his life improved tremendously and he transitioned to more-permanent housing and earned pay raises at his job. He is no longer homeless in Seattle and is working toward obtaining relief from the landlord in the rental dispute.
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless - Washington, D.C.
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH) works to use the law to bring justice to those who struggle with homelessness and poverty. DWT’s Washington, D.C., lawyers have been volunteering with this program for almost 15 years. Leslie Moylan made it possible for a WLCH client to remain in a shelter with her one-year-old daughter and continue to receive child care. Moylan’s client even wrote an email to the legal clinic expressing her gratitude. Moylan also helped a client obtain an extension of her housing subsidy payments, which were set to end, and assisted a client with an appeal of the denial of his SSI benefits. Tajma Rahimic preserved Section 8 housing for a tenant threatened with eviction and also assisted a client with a consumer warranty by facilitating negotiations with a mattress company.
Housing Justice Project - Seattle
King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP), situated inside both the Seattle and Kent courthouses, provides legal advice and representation to low-income tenants facing eviction. While volunteering for the Housing Justice Project, Ruben Pagan has helped tenants prepare and submit reasonable accommodation and grievance hearing requests to secure basic rights such as therapeutic pet ownership, given advice on how to end unhealthy landlord-tenant relationships without jeopardizing valuable government subsidies or incurring negative marks on rental histories, and counseled non-English-speaking immigrants on their basic tenancy rights and how to enforce them. Pagan volunteers at HJP because “it’s a great way to combat homelessness in Seattle while gaining invaluable experience working with clients’ highly diverse experiences and varying degrees of sophistication.” Other HJP volunteers include Conner Peretti and James Corning.
Outside In - Portland
Outside In helps homeless youth and other marginalized people move toward improved health and self-sufficiency. For many years lawyers in our Portland office have provided pro bono services to clients of this project.
Second Chance Legal Clinic - San Francisco
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area runs a Second Chance Legal Clinic. The clinic assists clients who are seeking to overcome barriers to employment and housing due to past arrest and conviction records. Colin Wells and Zeb Zankel, under the supervision of partner Tom Burke, are working on behalf of a homeless veteran, fighting to expunge a 25-year-old DUI record. He has committed himself to rehabilitation, earned a commercial driver’s license and related certifications. The last hurdle on the path to his goal of being a truck driver is to expunge his record. Wells and Zankel filed a motion to expunge and will argue the motion.
Emily Sangi worked on behalf of a client who immigrated to the U.S. with his family as a child, and has been living in California for nearly five decades, but had not applied for citizenship, in part because he feared his previous criminal convictions would undermine his application. Under the guidance of partner Martin Fineman, Sangi worked with the client over the course of several months to prepare petitions to dismiss three convictions for offenses committed between two and three decades ago. The petitions included a declaration from the client expressing his regret for his past actions and demonstrating his rehabilitation and nine letters of support from friends, family and colleagues attesting to the client’s excellent character and positive contributions to the community.
Sangi represented the client at a court hearing and spent hours on the phone with court clerks navigating the unique issues presented by petitioning to dismiss a conviction so old that its court records had been purged. The courts ultimately granted the petitions and all three convictions have been dismissed and set aside. Throughout the dismissal process, Sangi kept in regular communication with the client’s immigration attorney and secured certified copies of all relevant court papers to include in the client’s citizenship application, which was filed this year.
Homeless Women’s Shelter Clinic - Bellevue
For several years, lawyer Linda Atkins has volunteered at a legal clinic provided by the Eastside Legal Assistance Project (ELAP) at The Sophia Way. Sophia Way operates a day and night shelter for homeless adult women, providing shelter, life-skills training, social services and a path to permanent housing. Atkins typically has four appointments in a two-hour period, and for each woman, she does what she can to listen, triage, and refer to either one of the ELAP legal-service programs or other community resources for help with their specific problems.
Virtually all the women Atkins has seen at Sophia Way once had jobs, homes and families. Homelessness happens for many reasons, but often it’s divorce, domestic violence or medical problems that cause disability, job loss and debt. Atkins says it’s her pleasure to serve these women “in whatever way I can and the service adds substantial meaning to my legal practice and my life.”