Jake Kmiech

The Project

Jake will partner with his host organization, CASA, inc. to proudly represent immigrant communities facing housing instability throughout Maryland, ensuring they have access to safe housing and justice.

Housing instability in Maryland has reached a crescendo. Eviction rates and rents have risen hand-in-hand while housing conditions often have not, burdening low-income families already struggling to keep a safe roof over their heads. Housing instability specifically has a disproportionate impact on members of Maryland’s low-income immigrant community, who have unequal access to remedies under Maryland’s legal system due to language and cost barriers.

Fellowship Plans

Jake will provide direct and full legal services to tenants facing eviction, inhumane and unsafe property conditions, wrongful detainer suits, and other legal issues related to housing security. From initial interviews to trial, Jake will help tenants see a fair day in court. Additionally, Jake will host Know Your Rights training presentations. Knowledge is power, and this is especially true within our legal system. Jake will also aid community organizing efforts, campaign for improved laws, and draft legislation on behalf of Maryland’s immigrant communities.

In college, Jake dreamed of becoming an immigration attorney. However, after struggling with unsafe housing conditions while working towards his law degree, and after hearing hundreds of similar stories from almost everyone he knew, Jake switched gears. He believes that all people deserve access to stable housing and hopes to create a pathway for tenants to learn their rights and seek justice.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

I am proud to advocate for the rights of immigrant communities and tenants as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. In doing so, I play an active part in creating a more just and equitable society.

Jake Kmiech /
2022 Housing Justice Program Fellow

The Project

DiNesha’s (she/they) project, hosted by the Homeless Persons Representation Project’s Homeless Youth Initiative, will focus on eviction defense and increasing access to permanent housing for youth and young adults in Baltimore City, Maryland.

This Fellowship seeks to address housing issues facing youth up to the age of 25. Many times, housing resources are not geared toward this age demographic leaving them unhoused or subject to cyclical transitional housing. By providing legal and educational assistance specifically for this population, DiNesha will seek to increase the number of youth and young adults’ access to permanent housing.

Fellowship Plans

Increasing access to permanent housing for youth and young adults will require advocacy, collaborative partnerships with the community providers and those affected by housing instability, as well as homelessness and legislative policy change. Eviction and subsidized housing defense are essential to ensure that those currently housed remain housed and those denied get the housing they need. Additionally, connecting with Continuum of Care organizations providing resources to those who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability is paramount to connecting with the community this fellowship seeks to serve. Through those partnerships, DiNesha will develop and execute legal clinics to not only educate youth about their rights as tenants but also support the education of staff so that the work may continue after the completion of the Fellowship. Lastly, DiNesha will advocate for legislative policy changes affecting homeless youth by persistently uplifting youths’ voices and strategic coalition building to continue developing lasting infrastructure that effectively supports Baltimore’s youth and young adults.

This opportunity was uniquely catered to a demographic that DiNesha has always sought to serve: youth and young adults. Youth are our future and investing in their well-being is one of the best investments an individual and a community can make. Although DiNesha struggled with housing instability and homeless throughout their youth and young adulthood, the trajectory of their lives was not determined by those periods. It was because of those that made an investment in them and the same can be said about the community they now seek to serve.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

As a person from a low-income background who has struggled with youth housing instability and homelessness, I’m honored and proud to serve a community from which I proudly identify and be an example of the possibilities the future may offer.

DiNesha Rucker /
2022 Housing Justice Program Fellow

The Project

Denise (she/her) will coordinate education and advocacy efforts of tenant groups throughout the state, especially in policy advocacy.

There are pockets of tenant groups throughout the state using various materials for education and advocacy.  These groups are doing policy advocacy, but not necessarily collectively, which minimizes their impact.

The inspiration for doing this work arises out of the Denise’s desire to be a part of systemic change and not short-term solutions.

Fellowship Plans

Denise will identify and support grass roots tenant organizations and groups throughout the state to help coordinate and guide them on policy advocacy. She will accomplish this by providing education and training both in person and virtually.

She will provide pathways for tenants to lead policy initiatives and determine priorities through advocacy training and meetings in conjunction with tenant organizations.

Through education and training, she will empower public housing residents to support their inclusion in decision making processes.

Media

Meet the Fellows in Our 2022 Housing Justice Program

The Project

Tiffany (she/her/hers) will provide for the economic empowerment of women experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Wichita Falls, Texas and the surrounding rural communities through direct representation, on-site intake at service provider locations, and community outreach.

The Texas Homeless Network estimates that in 2019 more than 8,000 people experienced homelessness in 215 rural Texas counties; additionally, in a 2020 report, the Texas Tribune showed that rural homelessness in Texas was up 33%. COVID-19 continues to pose risks for those experiencing homelessness as social services have become more limited, and the economic effects of the pandemic have put more Americans at risk of homelessness. With this trend of increasing homelessness, it is important to note that women’s homelessness is highly associated with exacerbating factors such as domestic violence and sexual exploitation/harassment, violent victimization, human trafficking, and trauma—all of which deteriorate mental health. Rural, low-income Texans already have difficulty accessing basic legal services; furthermore, rural areas in Texas generally lack dedicated resources to find and aid those experiencing homelessness, leaving churches and faith-based organizations as some of the few community lifelines.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Tiffany will focus on homelessness and homelessness prevention for women in the rural communities served by the Wichita Falls office of Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. She will create and maintain partnerships with local non-profit and faith-based organizations that serve women experiencing or at risk of homelessness through outreach and on-site community intake to make civil legal aid accessible to this population. Tiffany will remove barriers to employment and sustainable housing by handling expunctions and nondisclosures of criminal records and litigating civil protective orders. Additionally, she will conduct community surveys to collect data on the additional legal needs of these women.

I do not know what it is like to be a homeless woman living in rural Texas. I do know, however, that it is my calling to use my legal knowledge to transform society into one that uplifts the marginalized.

Tiffany Uke /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kate (she/her/hers) will provide legal representation, policy advocacy, and holistic post-eviction services to low-income Western North Carolinians experiencing housing insecurity.

The United States faces an eviction crisis that disproportionately harms low-income renters and historically marginalized communities. Western North Carolina lacks substantive eviction diversion programs, subjecting tenants to the long-term societal, health, and economic consequences of eviction. Eviction poses a significant threat to residents in the greater Asheville area due to wealth disparities, lengthy subsidized housing waitlists, and a lack of affordable housing. Without eviction protection and affordable housing, low-income and marginalized communities suffer poor health, barriers to employment and education, and lasting harm.

Having experienced housing insecurity as a child and watching her mother experience eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kate was driven to find creative ways to help individuals at all stages of a housing crisis. She has seen firsthand the mental and physical strain that eviction processes place upon individuals and has vowed through her project to address cycles of instability and poverty that often follow in the wake of housing insecurity.

Fellowship Plans

Through legal representation, policy advocacy, and post-eviction mitigation strategies, the North Carolina Housing Justice Project will tackle eviction at all stages of the process. During her Fellowship term, Kate will employ a three-pronged approach to provide tenants with holistic eviction protection.

First, she will seek to increase housing stability and affordability in the region. Second, she will focus on securing access to justice for tenants through eviction diversion programs, policy advocacy, and direct representation. Finally, she will mitigate post-eviction fallout by creating a community alliance to provide tenants with access to resources such as storage facilities, moving assistance, and temporary housing services.

My project was born from my belief that housing is a human right and that no mother, no child, and no person should be subjected to the trauma of eviction.

Kate Merlin /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Justin (he/him/his) advocates on behalf of unhoused and justice-involved individuals in the Antelope Valley in tickets cases for “quality of life” offenses that criminalize homelessness.

The Antelope Valley is a remote desert community at the northeastern border of Los Angeles County and has seen explosive growth in its unhoused population since the onset of the pandemic. Aside from the dangerous weather conditions, the unhoused are subjected to discriminatory policing practices. By citing unhoused individuals for life-sustaining activities such as eating, sleeping, or merely sitting on the sidewalk, law enforcement agencies are effectively criminalizing being unhoused. Because there is no right to counsel in these cases, 9/10 ticket cases in California are litigated without representation. The fines and fees associated with these tickets can pose severe hardship to this population, and the use of fines and fees to police the unhoused distorts justice.

Justin’s work in the Antelope Valley before attending law school motivates his commitment to serving this community and advancing economic justice.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Justin will represent Antelope Valley residents in ticket and citation cases and host ticket clinics to educate and assist with court-debt clearing strategies. He will also provide criminal record clearing relief services for eligible clients to assist clients in mitigating barriers to housing and employment.

Coming from a rural state like Vermont, I have seen firsthand the impact of legal-aid deserts. I’m passionate about serving the Antelope Valley and assisting the community to mitigate the hardships of court debt.

Justin Small /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Seran (they/them/theirs) seeks to advance protections for transgender and non-binary people in housing and homelessness contexts through direct representation, policy advocacy, and education.

Transgender and non-binary people, especially transgender and non-binary people of color, face disproportionately high rates of housing discrimination and homelessness. Transgender and non-binary people experience disproportionately high rates of housing instability and homelessness for several (often related) reasons, including family rejection, heightened risk of abuse, increased risk of chronic health conditions, and discrimination. Additionally, while experiencing homelessness, transgender and non-binary individuals struggle to find shelter because of discriminatory policies and attitudes.

Seran’s experiences as a non-binary person of color have driven them to advocate for the just treatment of all people regardless of gender, class, ability, or race.

Fellowship Plans

During their fellowship, Seran will represent transgender and non-binary people who have faced housing discrimination or been denied access to a homeless shelter. They will work directly with members of their community to ensure that policies and legislation fully protect the rights of transgender people in housing and homelessness contexts. Additionally, they will provide education to service providers to ensure service providers are aware of the rights of transgender and non-binary people.

The goal is not just survival; we deserve the chance to have lives worth living.

Seran Gee /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ian (he/him/his) helps soon-to-be-released prisoners in Illinois access public benefits such as SSI/SSDI and Medicare/Medicaid with the goal of reducing post-release health decline, homelessness, and recidivism.

Around one-third of prisoners in the United States report having a disability. Unaddressed disabilities contribute directly to hardship after prison. Inability to secure income through employment can make accessing housing or healthcare virtually impossible. Ultimately, these hardships contribute to a cycle of homelessness and recriminalization for too many disabled persons.

The Pre-Release Enrollment Program is designed to interrupt this cycle at a critical juncture: reentry from prison. Helping incarcerated persons start their claims before release puts them in a better position to acquire benefits soon after release, narrowing the gap of support between prison and the community.

Fellowship Plans

Ian will work between the Illinois Department of Corrections, Disability Determination Services, and local Social Security Administration offices to facilitate applications for presently incarcerated persons. He will help prisoners produce the evidence and documentation necessary for successful benefits claims. In the long term, this project seeks to lay the foundation for an integrated, community-partnered reentry unit in Illinois.

I believe stable and healthy communities are an indispensable pillar of a just society. The Pre-Release Enrollment Program has the potential to help disabled and criminalized Illinoisians successfully reintegrate into communities and thrive there.

Ian McCollum /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Patrick’s project will work to establish an eviction help desk in Baton Rouge City Court to provide on-site direct legal services and representation to defend tenants in eviction cases. Patrick will work with the Baton Rouge Mayor-President’s Office and the Clerk of City Court to secure physical space in the city court and to obtain permission from the judges for oral motions and answers to better facilitate same-day representation.

COVID-19 has placed more individuals in danger of evictions than ever before due to loss of income and risks to health. A city court eviction help desk will further the cause of Disaster Resilience as both a reaction to the increase in evictions due to COVID-19 and will act as insulation for individuals against future increases in evictions due to disasters or other causes.

Fellowship Plans

All Patrick wants to do in his legal career is to help people, and public interest work allows him to protect the fundamental rights of those low-income individuals who need aid the most. Housing is among the most basic life needs, and COVID-19 has endangered that need for many. Patrick is thrilled for the opportunity to defend low-income tenants against evictions and ensure that his clients receive every protection available under the law. The Disaster Resilience Fellowship at Equal Justice Works allows him to fulfill his dual passions for justice for the needy and for trial advocacy.

The Project

Chris will help achieve justice for low-income individuals and families, primarily on the Westbank of the greater New Orleans region. His work will prevent housing instability caused by evictions by defending the legal rights of clients through legal aid, advocacy, and community education. Additionally, Chris will address the housing needs of low-income individuals and families by assisting with legal assistance, advocacy, and community education with addressing habitability issues caused by natural disasters such as Hurricane Ida and/or landlord neglect.

Through the advocacy of legal rights and community education outreach, our project will improve housing stability within the New Orleans region. Housing stability will help our area better respond, react and cope with disasters and the stresses caused by them.

Fellowship Plans

Chris considers himself blessed to have the opportunity to work for the people in his community who need assistance the most. There are few positions in his field that would have allowed him to work directly with his clients and never worry about collecting a fee. Legal aid and public interest victories provide him with the most fantastic sense of purpose.

Media

Representing Tenants in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster