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. He is entering his third year at Georgetown University Law Center.