Photo of Heather Abraham

Heather Abraham

  • Hosted by Legal Services of Northern Michigan
  • Sponsored by Equal Justice Works Text-to-Give
  • Service location Traverse City, Michigan
  • Law school University of Minnesota Law School
  • Issue area Housing/Homelessness
  • Fellowship class year 2016
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Heather offered rural homeless adults and families a fresh start to overcoming poverty in northwest Michigan by coordinating a “Community Outreach Court” adapted to resolve common contributors to rural homelessness, such as cumulative fines and bench warrants, and representing low-income renters facing imminent homelessness

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Lack of shelter is the ultimate poverty. In northwest Michigan’s gentrifying job center, Traverse City, unprecedented housing demand is driving renters to remote, dilapidated housing. Displaced renters annually drive thousands of extra miles and pay $16,076 for transportation to work at low-wage service jobs. They spend a crushing 73% of their income on housing and transportation and are uniquely susceptible to accumulating fines and bench warrants correlated with rural poverty, such as driving without insurance. In their constrained budgets, even a traffic ticket makes the difference between paying rent and eviction. With virtually no vacancy, eviction is tantamount to homelessness. Cumulative fines and warrants are needless barriers to housing. Community Outreach Court offers alternative, nonmonetary means to eliminate barriers by crediting participants’ self-restorative actions to address the root causes of their poverty or homelessness.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Heather has:

  • Advised or represented 432 clients facing eviction or homelessness
  • Collaboratively designed and launched a Community Outreach Court adapted to address rural homelessness, in partnership with a committed team of judges, attorneys, formerly homeless adults, social service providers, and many other stakeholders
  • Recruited more than 40 pro bono attorneys to represent low-income tenants facing eviction and/or expunge old criminal convictions

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Heather plans to:

  • Launch a life-long public interest career representing low-income individuals and people who have faced unlawful discrimination
  • Recruit, train, and mentor new and experienced pro bono partners to expand the reach of public interest law firms across the country
  • Strengthen the pipeline from law schools to public interest practice
  • Litigate Fair Housing Act and related cases in the context of housing and homelessness and other circumstances facing vulnerable populations
  • Research and promote alternative-to-arrest programs

Media

Heather Abraham (’12) Awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowship

A critical part of my Fellowship is being a watchdog. I keep an eye on landlords who break the law when no one is looking.

Heather Abraham /
Equal Justice Works

Meet Other Fellows Like Heather

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Amy Willis

Host: Georgia Law Center for the Homeless

Sponsor: Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, The Home Depot

Andrew Chen

Host: Public Counsel

Sponsor: Anonymous

Melissa Will

Host: Ohio State Legal Services Association

Sponsor: Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation

Maureen Foley

Host: Community Legal Aid Services, Inc.

Sponsor: Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation