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.
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
Hope (she/her/hers) will provide direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) estimates that they receive 50-70 calls every year from United States citizens having trouble obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and other identity documents because federal and state laws do not account for the realities of low-income transitional families living on the Texas-Mexico border. People with birth certificates signed by midwives (parteras) and people who attended secondary school in Mexico for a period often have a particularly difficult time meeting the evidentiary requirements for obtaining proof of citizenship documents. The technical administrative knowledge required to pursue these claims, combined with their time-intensive and fact-specific nature, means that TRLA is currently unable to address the need among its client communities for these claims.
Hope’s experience living and working in rural communities across the American South makes her familiar with the barriers low-income people in rural communities face in accessing resources. Hope’s time spent working as part of TRLA’s civil rights team introduced her to the issues faced by many border community citizens in obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.
Hope will represent people in rural border communities having trouble obtaining proof of identity and citizenship documents in administrative proceedings with state agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. For individuals facing prolonged denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship, 8 U.S.C. § 1503 offers clients a remedy in federal court. Hope will also be conducting outreach to raise awareness and hosting identity document application clinics along the middle border region, as well as working to develop streamlined resources for other TRLA attorneys handling proof-of-citizenship claims.
Born and raised in rural Georgia, I understand how difficult it can be for disadvantaged populations in resource-scarce rural areas to access basic government services.
Hope Bettler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Laura organizes clinics that address the unmet, pressing legal needs of people living in the Trans-Pecos region of far west Texas; during these clinics, TRLA offers holistic legal services to clients and establishes referral networks in remote communities.
Access to justice is an urgent issue for this rural area’s low-income population, who live across 31,000 square miles of high Chihuahuan desert. Laura will increase TRLA’s presence in hard-to-reach areas by conducting clinics that address recurring legal issues she has identified. By developing contacts in these areas, Laura strengthens TRLA’s referral networks, which connect TRLA’s holistic legal services to very rural communities.
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is the only legal aid organization that provides direct services to this vast area. TRLA’s office in Alpine, consisting of just two attorneys, is still a two-hour drive for many clients. Access to justice is a pressing need for low-income residents in this area.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Laura has:
- Connected with community leaders and advocates to identify recurring, unmet legal needs in the Trans-Pecos region
- Researched procedures for protesting property tax appraisals and then used social media and weekly newspapers to provide information and education to low-income homeowners
- Provided direct representation to survivors of domestic violence in the Trans-Pecos area
In the next year, Laura plans to:
- Organize pro se assisted divorce clinics in areas where TRLA historically has low levels of engagement
- Develop a needs assessment for clinic participants that will enable TRLA to provide holistic legal services
- Further develop referral networks in rural communities where TRLA is not well-known
- Continue representing clients in family law matters
I grew up in a small town in rural Colorado, and my previous experience living in the Trans-Pecos area inspired my decision to go to law school. Access to justice in remote areas is a unique and pressing need that I am excited to address.
Laura Tucker /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow