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 both the problems that we face and the work that we must do to correct for them.

To our volunteers: we are humbled by you, and we thank you for standing beside us as we work to bring about an end to homelessness and assist those who are most in need.

[i] Phone interview with Tom Fredericksen, The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (Feb. 5, 2009) (between Oct. 2007 and Oct. 2008, 15,779 individuals used the homelessness systems in Washington, DC).

[ii] Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), A Regional Portrait of Homelessness: The 2010 Count of Homeless Persons in Metropolitan Washington at 33 (May 2010).