In Washington, a significant number of homeless children are not being identified by school districts despite district demographics suggesting far greater numbers. The federal law that protects these students, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, is underused and often unknown in the community. Katara addressed how many homeless students are not being identified, the necessity of identifying these students, and will provide legal advocacy and outreach to homeless students and their families to ensure those students have full access to education in Washington State.
Alicia improved access to legal representation for youth in child welfare proceedings in Washington state through impact litigation, conducting court observation studies, and multi-forum advocacy.
When a child is removed from home due to abuse or neglect, decisions about where she will live, the services she will receive, and the family relationships she can maintain are determined by judges in a courtroom. In this situation, an attorney can advocate for the desires of a child, whether those desires are to remain with her parents, to maintain sibling contact, or to receive services for her educational and mental health needs. Attorneys protect a youth’s legal interests and give youth a voice in the decisions that are being made about their lives. However, at the time of this fellowship, in Washington State, children in foster care were not universally appointed legal counsel.
Through the provision of 26 community education presentations, drafting and sharing template motions, filing amicus briefs on behalf of children and initiating litigation that was eventually considered by the Washington State Supreme Court, this fellowship increased awareness of the legal needs for youth in foster care. Stories from youth in foster care and their attorneys were combined with data from statewide surveys and intensive court observation through a report through this fellowship titled Defending Our Children that was shared with the Washington State Legislature, resulting in a pilot program for representation of children in two counties. In 2021, Washington’s Governor signed legislation that will expand that pilot program state-wide.
After spending an additional year at the University of Washington School of Law as a Clinical Law Fellow, Alicia relocated to Michigan where she spent time Legal Services of South Central Michigan and the City of Detroit Mayor’s Office. Alicia now serves as Deputy Legal Counsel for Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Evelina will provide legal advocacy and outreach to low-income tenants, including monolingual Spanish speakers, in California’s Silicon Valley to improve rental housing conditions and help combat slum housing.
Low-income tenants often struggle to resolve habitability problems such as mold and vermin infestations which impact their families’ health. Without legal assistance, many of them face unresponsive landlords and risk retaliatory evictions for requesting repairs. Moreover, many tenants lack adequate legal assistance because of their undocumented status. Undocumented immigrants are especially vulnerable due to a host of factors, including limited English proficiency, insufficient income to move to safer housing, and fear of landlord retaliation leading to deportation. These problems are compounded by a current shortage in Santa Clara County of nearly 54,000 affordable housing units for its lowest-income residents. While the county is home to over 170,000 undocumented immigrants, rental prices in San Jose (the county’s biggest city) are among the highest in the nation. Recently, apartment rents in San Jose increased more than in any other U.S. city. Currently, almost 60 percent of very low-income households pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent in Santa Clara County. At the same time, there is no “just cause” eviction policy in San Jose, where over 40 percent of households are renters.
Mariah created the Medical-Legal Partnership for Vets (MLPV) at Seattle’s VA Medical Center to promote homeless and at-risk veterans’ health through direct services, provider training, and systemic advocacy.
Low-income veterans are particularly vulnerable in Seattle’s current high-cost-of-living environment, especially with the lack of affordable housing. The Medical-Legal Partnership for Vets aimed to identify homeless and at-risk veterans whose legal needs were affecting their health (especially access to housing or medical care) and treat those needs together with veterans’ care providers. The Medical-Legal Partnership for Vets also aimed to systemically address these problems through training, coalition building, and community education.
In the past two years, Mariah has:
- Assisted, referred, or provided information to over 260 veterans with legal needs
- Created a Discharge Upgrade pro bono panel to increase the availability of desperately-needed representation in discharge upgrade cases in Washington
- Presented over 30 times to various groups, including VA providers, Public Defenders, and community and social service organizations
- Served as a resource for local veteran service providers, including county departments, social service professionals, and other private and public interest attorneys
Now that the Fellowship period is complete, Mariah will:
- Continue to strengthen the Medical-Legal Partnership for Vets
- Expand the Discharge Upgrade pro bono panel to more firms
- Create additional resources for providers on commonly-encountered legal issues for veterans
- Further integrate legal services into Seattle’s veteran service landscape