A Legal Clinic Case Study: Stories Shared. Lessons Learned.

Posted on Feb 14, 2018 in Advocates, Client Victories, Clients, Homelessness, Housing, Justice, Law, Non Profit, People, Poverty, Shelter | 0 comments

Editor’s note: Over the years, the Legal Clinic has shared with our blog readers an in-depth look at our work, most often on the systemic advocacy front. We look forward to keeping you updated on the tenant-led housing struggles we support through our Affordable Housing Initiative, sharing perspectives and information about the rights of our neighbors living in encampments and our efforts to minimize the criminalization of homelessness, and other topics related to housing instability in the District of Columbia. As we settle in to the DC Council’s oversight and budget season, many of the posts over the next few months will focus on how well the District government is serving community members, and what a budget that truly meets community needs should look like. In the meantime, we want to take a moment to share with you some information about our Legal Assistance Project, through which we provide representation to individual clients, helping them to overcome obstacles that have anchored them in homelessness.   About 18 months ago, as we were approaching our 30th anniversary year, the Legal Clinic began a conversation with Dr. Marcia Bernbaum when she came to us seeking a deeper sense of the history of homelessness and the landscape of homeless services in the nation’s capital. After a career in international development helping the lowest-income community members in countries where she served, Marcy has spent the last few years actively learning about homelessness in DC by volunteering, largely through the People for Fairness Coalition. With a PhD in Psychology and a focus on applied research, Marcy seeks always to continue learning and using her professional skills to make a positive contribution to the movement to bring an end to homelessness in DC. Marcy very generously offered to volunteer her time to do a case study of the Legal Clinic, giving us the opportunity to mark the 30th anniversary milestone with reflection upon our past and contemplation of our future. Marcy took on the task of researching and writing about the many facets of our unique and powerful story – exploring our impact on clients, volunteers and the broader community; compiling a litany of “lessons learned” so that our successes could be replicated and our less-than-successes could be avoided; and understanding what makes us special. In addition to looking at the Legal Clinic from a broad, organization-wide perspective, Marcy undertook a focused look at several discrete aspects of our work: our Legal Assistance Project; our Affordable Housing Initiative; and our various educational efforts (informing clients about their rights and opportunities for advocacy, as well as training law enforcement officials about the rights of community members experiencing homelessness). She also compiled a history of Home Court,...

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“Why Advocating for the Homeless Makes Me a Better Lawyer”

Posted on Oct 30, 2015 in Advocates, Client Victories, Clients, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Law, People, Poverty, Shelter | 0 comments

To cap the end of National Pro Bono Week, The Legal Clinic thanks our amazing volunteers whose hard work and dedication ensures that nearly a thousand low and no income residents in the District are able to access justice each year. The following was written by one of our outstanding volunteer attorneys Ahuva Battams.

For some young (and old!) attorneys, pro bono work is just another box to check to meet the requirements of their firm. For me, being an advocate for the homeless is much, much more. I always believed in helping people in need – in an abstract kind of way. I’d give left-overs to a person I saw on the street after working late. I would donate money or the occasional toiletry package every now and then— hey, I was “helping.” And these types of contributions are absolutely essential for those struggling with homelessness. But as I approached graduation from law school, I realized that I had a responsibility as a lawyer to do “more.”

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New Analysis: There is NO good reason for DC to lower the family shelter standard so far

Posted on Oct 27, 2015 in Action Alert, Advocates, Benefits, Client Victories, Clients, DC Budget, DC Policies and Plans, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Justice, Law, Non Profit, People, Poverty, Shelter, Wealth Gap | 0 comments

We’ve shared our thoughts on the Mayor’s proposal (B21-352) to lower the standard for DC General replacement units from apartment style to private rooms, emphasizing that the law must provide families an assurance of private bathrooms, food storage, and access to cooking equipment. Yesterday, we shared the input of 53 homeless families on what, based on their lived experiences, is critical for parents and children living in shelter—the majority of these families said private bathrooms and the ability to store and cook food were necessary even for stays as short as under three months. Even the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), at the behest of the Mayor, released a report concluding that the Mayor should “maximize private bathroom space however possible without delaying closing of DC General” and also provide food storage and some ability to cook.

If we all agree that the best policy is to provide these features in shelter, why are we still debating the Mayor’s bill?

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Homeless Families Win Class Action Lawsuit

Posted on Jul 24, 2015 in Advocates, Client Victories, Clients, Homelessness, Housing, Human Rights, Hypothermia, Justice, Law, People, Shelter | 0 comments

On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Okun issued a final order in favor of DC homeless families in the class action Melvern Reid v. District of Columbia. The class action was filed in the winter of 2013-2014 in response to the Gray Administration’s placement of homeless families in recreation centers, which the families alleged, and the court agreed, put them at risk of serious harm and violated their rights to be placed in apartment-style or private room shelters under the Homeless Services Reform Act.

Judge Okun issued a permanent injunction that requires DC …

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A Story of Victory

Posted on Jun 4, 2015 in Advocates, Client Victories, Clients, Justice, Non Profit, Poverty | 0 comments

The 20th in our series of 24 stories is a story of victory, a victory achieved when Legal Clinic Volunteer Attorney Nadia Mozaffar connected with her client at a Legal Clinic intake site.  It underscores the importance of our being present to our clients when they need us most.   Our legal team first met Mr. D when he came into the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless intake site at So Others Might Eat. He had been homeless for almost six months after being evicted from his apartment due to alleged non-payment of rent, and had recently received a notice that his housing voucher was also going to be terminated. As we dug further into the facts of the case, it quickly became clear that Mr. D had been evicted and lost his housing voucher, not because of missing rent payments or any fault of his own, but due to blatant discrimination and bureaucratic inefficiency and errors. Through the help of Mr. D’s case manager, we found proof that Mr. D had made all of his rent payments. We also learned that the landlord had even admitted to the case worker that he had evicted Mr. D because of the symptoms from his mental illness. Mr. D should never have been evicted from his apartment, but his mental illness prevented him from being able to adequately defend himself against his landlord’s false accusations. Mr. D did was never even aware that the landlord had started eviction proceedings against him, especially because he had been paying his rent, and a default judgment was awarded for the landlord.   Despite all of our evidence that Mr. D had not committed any violations of his lease, it was very difficult to convince DCHA to reinstate Mr. D’s housing voucher. We filed a Reasonable Accommodation request arguing that Mr. D’s mental illness directly resulted in his eviction, but it was denied. We represented Mr. D at an informal hearing, but DCHA continually asserted that because a default judgment had been awarded to the landlord, they had no discretion to reinstate his voucher. It was only after we filed an appeal presenting case law and Department of Housing and Urban Development guidance showing that housing authorities have significant discretion in making housing voucher determinations, did DCHA reverse the Informal Hearing Decision and agree to reinstate Mr. D’s housing voucher.   Mr. D’s case highlights the importance of having legal services readily available to low-income and homeless individuals. This is especially true for individuals with physical and mental illnesses who are more likely to face discrimination, and who are less able to defend themselves when they are evicted from their homes, or when much...

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