Our Great Volunteers

Posted on Aug 31, 2010 in Advocates, Homelessness, Housing, Law, People | 0 comments

By Nick Cassalbore, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Volunteer Coordinator In 2009, volunteers with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless assisted clients with over 740 legal issues. It is our pleasure to share some of their recent victories. The problem: A single mother and her four children are threatened with a termination notice by their transitional housing program. How we helped: WLCH volunteer secures housing and a lease for the client and her family. The problem: An elderly man is told by the Social Security Administration that he has been overpaid by $54,000. How we helped: WLCH volunteer discovers an error in the overpayment calculation and finds that the client is owed approximately $34,000 by SSA. The problem: A woman who lives in the basement of an abandoned house is about to be removed from the wait-list for public housing. How we helped: WLCH volunteer contacts the DC Housing Authority and obtains housing for the client. Without a doubt, our volunteers assist their clients in substantial and life-changing ways. What is it, then, that inspires our volunteers to do such good? Well, this is a difficult question is to answer. While we suspect that there are a number of motivations at work here, we also suspect that some motivations are shared by Legal Clinic volunteers and staff members alike. The need is apparent. Despite whether you’re a resident of the District or simply a visitor, it becomes quickly obvious that our community has failed to address properly the problem of homelessness. Approximately 16,000 people are homeless in Washington, DC over the course of a year, one of the highest rates in the country. And in recent times the problem is getting worse: on a single night in 2010, 6,539 persons in the city were homeless, a 5% increase over 2009. So, we should all agree that there is an obvious problem of homelessness in our community: thousands of people are homeless and thousands of others are dangerously close to homelessness. The right thing to do is apparent. As a community, our basic and initial response to the problem of homeless should be obvious: If people are without homes and so forced to sleep on the streets, then we must provide them safe shelter or housing. To put this point another way, we are obligated – in a clear and evident way – to assist the members of our community who are most in need. While the problem of homelessness persists, we must remain positive and hopeful in our struggle to build a most just and inclusive D.C. This is precisely the optimism and hope that our volunteers embody. Alive in our volunteers is a burning recognition of...

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A Victory on the Landlord/Tenant Front – But Still a Long Way to Go

Posted on Aug 13, 2010 in Client Victories, Clients, People | 0 comments

By Andy Silver, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Staff Attorney Imagine that you have lived in the same apartment for 12 years. One day you go to the rental office to ask if you can pay your rent a few days late because you get one check at the beginning of the month and one check in the middle. You have asked for this favor several times before and it has always been granted, but this time the new property manager says she just needs to check to see if you are current in rent before she can say yes. You have no reason to think this would be a problem, because in the 12 years you have lived there you have always paid your rent and the property management has never mentioned anything to you about owing money. Today, however, is not your day. The property manager tells you the computer system shows that you owe almost five thousand dollars in back rent, the property has initiated a lawsuit in Landlord and Tenant Court asking a judge to evict you, and you should be expecting a court summons any day. Although this would be a potentially devastating situation for anyone to have to deal with, for the Legal Clinic’s client, Ms. A, devastation escalated to life-threatening. You see, Ms. A, suffers from bi-polar disorder. The normal anxiety one might experience going to court and facing the possibility of losing one’s home was magnified for Ms. A because of her illness. She could barely function whenever her thoughts turned to her housing situation; on more than one occasion, she contemplated ending her life rather than dealing with her landlord and tenant case. But despite the toll this was having on her, Ms. A found the courage to fight, and she sought representation from the Legal Clinic in the eviction suit she was forced to defend. Ms. A explained that she’d heard rumors that the former property manager had been fired for stealing money and wondered whether that might be why the landlord thought she owed all that back rent. She was able to find money order receipts for three of the months that property management claimed she didn’t pay, which became part of her defense to the allegation of non-payment. She reported that property management hadn’t always made repairs to her apartment in a timely manner, which allowed her to counter-sue for housing code violations and seek a rent abatement for those months when the landlord failed to respond to her repair requests. But Ms. A’s ultimate goal was to end the litigation as quickly as possible, even if it meant she didn’t achieve the best legal result...

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Legal Clinic Intern Greg Zlotnick Offers His Reflections

Posted on Aug 6, 2010 in Interns, Law, People | 0 comments

By Greg Zlotnick, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Intern Ten weeks later, I’m just getting started. Not on everything, mind you.  My internship this summer at the Legal Clinic has provided me with an invaluable education on many fronts.  The staff attorneys have mentored me as I have developed and added to my legal skills.  With their guidance, my writing has become more incisive and persuasive.  Orally, my confidence and clarity have grown, both speaking with, or for, clients.  Perhaps most importantly, I have practiced and improved my listening: focusing on the concerns and desires of our clients, understanding the positions of collaborators. As much as the wonderful Legal Clinic staff has guided me during my internship, the clients have helped even more.  Our clients’ effort to improve the lives and opportunities of themselves and others motivates me to listen carefully, to advocate clearly, and write persuasively.  No academic exercise can compare to the significance of challenging a shelter termination; no classroom simulation could prepare me for staffing intake and listening to the various challenges facing my neighbors in the Washington community.  My work with the Legal Clinic’s clients has led to immense professional and personal development this summer. It has been a meaningful and humbling education, one that’s only getting started.  As I head back to school this semester, I will apply and expand my legal skills in my clinical program, the new Community Justice Project.  After immersing myself in the details of federal and District programs like the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) and the Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP), I will study more carefully state and local responses to affordable housing and homelessness this upcoming year, applying my own and our clients’ experiences with these policies to think critically about our challenges. But beyond enhancing my practical legal skills and expanding my substantive knowledge of housing and homelessness issues, I look forward to deepening my commitment to building, to borrow from the Legal Clinic’s mission, a more just and inclusive society.  The kind of commitment the Legal Clinic staff demonstrates, working with clients to find a safe place to stay, no matter the hour.  The kind of commitment our clients show when they maintain their dignity and intensity in the face of unsettling obstacles.  The kind of commitment advocates for low-income Washingtonians exhibit during difficult economic times, when the numbers seeking help grow. My time here at the Legal Clinic is drawing to a close, and I will miss it dearly.  But my work that I started here, my commitment to social justice—well, I’m just getting started. Greg Zlotnick was a law clerk at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless this summer. ...

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Housing is a Human Right

Posted on Jul 26, 2010 in Homelessness, Housing | 3 comments

By Patty Mullahy Fugere – Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless Executive Director Welcome to “…with Housing and Justice for All,” the new blog of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. As our friends already know, the Legal Clinic is deeply committed to a vision of a just and inclusive District of Columbia.  We dedicate ourselves to building a community that respects the rights and honors the dignity of all of her members, no matter the ward of their residence nor the balance of their bank account.  For nearly twenty-five years, we have used the tools of the legal profession to end the unnecessary suffering caused by homelessness and poverty. We hope that, as we begin to blog about issues that impact the lives of our clients, you will come to see the Legal Clinic as an organization whose advocacy is faithful to our values: Our clients are our greatest strength and inspiration – and they and their voices should have a place of privilege in the decision-making processes that impact their lives.  Counter-intuitive to what most of us learn in law school (i.e. to be the spokesperson for our clients), we strive not to speak for our clients when they can speak for themselves, and we work to provide the supports that they need to effectively tap their power and use their voice. Two steps forward and one step back still move us — at however painful a pace — in the right direction.  We must be in this work for the long haul, and we must remain pointed in a forward direction, no matter the obstacles that we find on our path. We must frame our advocacy in the notion that our criticisms must be constructive and our identification of problems must not be without our offering of solutions. It is easier to stand together than to stand alone, but it is far better to stand alone than not to stand at all. Truth-telling sometimes comes at a price, yet it is a price that is never too high to pay. We look forward to sharing with you our views and insights, as well as hearing your feedback and concerns…and ultimately working together to assure that the nation’s capital is a place that provides “…housing and justice for...

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