Equal Justice at Work: April 2011
A Voice for our Veterans
Five homeless veterans have recently secured permanent housing thanks to the help of Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow, Lauren Peach. With the rate of homeless veterans continually increasing, this is a small step towards improving the transitioning system for veterans. Lauren, who is just six months in to her project, serves at the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle, Washington. She helps at-risk and homeless veterans to remove barriers to housing, employment and self-sufficiency through a program called the Veterans Project.
To help improve the many gaps in veterans’ services, Lauren collaborates with other community organizations aiding veterans to set up screenings, intakes and referral systems for veteran clients. She also recruits, trains and supports pro bono attorneys and law students to work with veteran clients.
Recently, Lauren was able to assist a client, who we will refer to as R.J. R.J. is a veteran who made an agreement with his landlord to fix up the house he was renting because the home was not habitable. He made basic improvements to the house to make it livable—fixing the wiring, the locks on the door, the plumbing in the bathroom and weatherproofing the windows. When R.J. turned to the Veterans Project for help, he had just received an eviction notice from his landlord ordering him to pay his rent in the next three days or vacate the premises. The landlord had not paid R.J. for his work, despite the fact that the landlord was already violating his obligation to provide a habitable living environment for his tenants. Lauren made efforts to negotiate R.J.’s rent payments with the landlord. The landlord refused to negotiate with Lauren, and moved forward with a hearing on the eviction. After pulling together evidence of R.J.’s need to fix the apartment because of the living conditions, Lauren was successful in getting the case dismissed and requesting $1,500 in attorney’s fees to be paid to the project. This dismissal resulted in the veteran client not being kicked out of the apartment and gave him time to find better housing.
With the work of AmeriCorps Legal Fellows like Lauren, veterans will continue to receive the services needed to transition back into a healthy and sustainable life after their service to our country.
Avoid Loan Delinquency and Default
Caveat emptor! Your student loan documents probably do not explicitly state "let the buyer beware"—but maybe they should. A sobering report released this month by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, "Delinquency: The Untold Story of Student Loan Borrowing," suggests that a majority of students struggle to repay their loans.
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From our weekly Student Loan Ranger blog at US News & World Report
Equal Justice Works Alumnus Advances Equal Justice Works Mission by Mentoring Fellows
In 1999, Matthew Lenaghan was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Advocates for Children of New York. He had found his start interning at the organization while in law school. He knew he was passionate about education issues and believed that it would be a great place for him to work. It was working with a 12-year-old boy who was being wrongfully accused of theft that opened Matthew’s eyes to the plight children face in poor educational systems. His client had lots of difficulties in his home life and was struggling academically. While visiting his young client’s school, Matthew saw that he was inappropriately placed in special education classes because of his behavioral issues, which were directly associated to his problems at home.
“Witnessing what this young man was going through in the school system showed me that kids have a great need for their rights to be met. I am able to make the biggest impact in their lives through direct representation,” Matthew reflects.
Today, Matthew is Deputy Director at the organization providing direct representation of children in special education cases. During his time at Advocates for Children, Matthew has also supervised three Equal Justice Works Fellows. Two of the three Fellows, Randy Levine and Alice Rosenthal, have stayed with the organization after completing their fellowships. Matthew enjoys being able to aid Fellows in developing their projects and watch them grow professionally. As a Fellow alumnus and now mentoring Fellows himself, he knows firsthand about Fellows’ need for support and training. Because of his background in teaching and training, Matthew is thrilled to couple his love for public interest work with mentoring young lawyers who have a shared interest.
While funding is always a concern for many public interest organizations, Matthew suggests that having Fellows come through Equal Justice Works gives both the Fellows and the organization new direction. Additionally, hosting Fellows, particularly those who are sponsored by law firms, builds and cultivates great relationships. Greenberg Traurig LLP sponsored his fellowship back in 1999 and that has grown into a 12-year relationship where many of the Greenberg staff provides pro bono legal assistance to Advocates for Children.
“The work that Equal Justice Works does is so important to the public interest field. I am so grateful that through this organization, Advocates for Children is able to get passionate attorneys,” says Matthew.
To learn more about Matthew’s work at Advocates for Children, watch a video featuring him on equaljusticeworks.org.
AmeriCorps Legal Fellows Answer the Call for Vulnerable Veterans
It is the shame of a nation that so many veterans who have served our country are homeless. Veterans are twice as likely to be homeless according to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Moreover, veterans suffering from the effects of combat face higher levels of unemployment and incarceration, as well as mental and physical health issues.
Overcoming these challenges often requires the help of lawyers. For veterans and their families, legal representation can mean the difference between homelessness and shelter; foreclosure or security; conflict or family reconciliation; poverty or benefits; and even a living wage.
Last fall, Equal Justice Works placed 10 AmeriCorps Fellows in the field to help homeless veterans secure housing, access medical care and support services. And they are already making a difference. In just six months our Fellows have provided 727 veterans with benefits or foreclosure assistance, and helped 12 homeless veterans secure permanent housing. In addition, they have helped hundreds of homeless veterans secure income, health benefits and supportive housing.
There are approximately 22.4 million veterans in the United States, a figure that represents 10% of our nation’s population. Our initiative is a first step to improving the quality and availability of legal services provided to the men and women who have fought for our country. The need for legal services for veterans is greater now than ever. In the coming months, we will explore ways to expand our program, place more Fellows in the field, and raise the awareness of the serious legal needs of our veterans.
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