Raneem Ashrawi

The Project

Raneem (she/her/hers) will advocate for Georgia youth with behavioral and mental health needs by advancing their access to the preventive care and reasonable accommodations to which they are entitled under federal law.

Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive into adulthood. With one in four kids in Georgia reporting at least one behavioral or mental health issue—and only one in 11 accessing care—the prospect of equitable opportunity seems far-fetched. Most of a child’s health status is attributable to social and environmental determinants like poverty, housing, education, and exposure to trauma. These factors often manifest as legal needs that, left unmanaged, will have a significant negative impact on health outcomes. Over the last three decades, medical-legal partnerships have demonstrated the necessity of leveraging legal services to improve physical health outcomes. Yet not much has been said about directing legal advocacy toward mental health.

Mental illness is the most common childhood disease, with higher rates than that of pediatric asthma, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS combined. It is the number one reason for teen hospitalization, and suicide is the second most common cause of teen death. Georgia youth deserve to have someone in their corner, ensuring they receive the mental health care coverage and reasonable public accommodations to which they are entitled.

Fellowship Plans

Raneem will represent clients from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with appealing Medicaid coverage denials of mental health services and will assist providers in drafting medical necessity letters. She will also enforce children’s rights to accommodations and services in education settings. Additionally, Raneem will empower families to advocate for children in school and at the doctor by hosting community programs on Early Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) requirements and public accommodations.

Media

Ashrawi receives prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship

My touchstone is to ‘be the adult you needed as a child.’ This project is the culmination of all my experiences, not only from my legal work and education but that intimate understanding of a struggle that just cannot be taught.

Raneem Ashrawi /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Eliza (she/her/hers) will work to stop the solitary confinement of children—particularly children of color—in Georgia’s adult prisons using strategic litigation and public education.

Georgia is one of the few states that continues to subject children to solitary confinement.  For kids incarcerated in Georgia’s adult prisons, solitary confinement is used both as a disciplinary sanction and for protection against bodily harm.  Children in solitary are kept in a cell the size of a parking space, receive food through a feeding slot, and must be strip-searched and handcuffed when allowed out of their cell.  This has devastating mental health effects and greatly increases the likelihood of recidivism.

In Georgia, this practice almost exclusively affects Black youth: Black teens make up around 80% of juveniles in Georgia’s prisons.  Black children in Georgia are thus not only more likely to be sent to adult prison but once there, they are subjected to a type of confinement that all but ensures long-term mental health problems and a return to the criminal legal system. Ending this practice is therefore critical to achieving racial justice in Georgia.

Eliza’s experience advocating for clients subjected to solitary confinement and her commitment to making Georgia better motivate her to fight against solitary confinement in its cruelest form—as applied to children, and disproportionately children of color.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Eliza will bring strategic litigation raising challenges to juvenile solitary confinement. She will also collect data and track Georgia’s use of solitary confinement for kids. Additionally, she will develop public education materials to increase awareness of this issue, such as op-eds.

Media

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

Ensuring that kids in adult prisons are not subjected to solitary confinement can greatly minimize the long-term negative impact of incarceration.

Eliza McDuffie /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kier provided representation to veterans seeking discharge upgrades, with priority given to veterans with PTSD symptomology, TBI, or other mental disabilities.

For many potential clients, a discharge upgrade is a necessary first step to being eligible for benefits including healthcare, legal assistance, social work, housing, and education. Providing legal assistance with discharge upgrades is a critical component of the comprehensive legal support that best situates a veteran to thrive in their community. Kier provided legal assistance to veterans by either offering full representation or pro se assistance in creating and filing an effective discharge application.

As a native of Atlanta, Kier has witnessed homeless individuals, many who are veterans, struggle to cope with their mental incapacity while trying to seek the basic services they need to survive. Kier’s goal is to assist the underserved, particularly veterans, so that these individuals can gain access to the services they vitally need.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Kier:

  • Provided legal assistance to over 200 veterans and full representation to 10 veterans seeking discharge upgrades
  • Held six discharge training sessions for sponsor and non-sponsor volunteers
  • Held 10 monthly Military Monday events for veterans seeking assistance with VA/DOD
  • Assisted the Clinic with nine Wills clinics, helping prepare 120 legal documents for veterans
  • Submitted five (5) discharge upgrade cases during the pandemic and responded to an advisory opinion for a pending discharge application

Next Steps

Kier plans to continue to volunteer assisting veterans and hopes of transitioning back to the federal government. In the meantime, Kier will continue her hobby of acting and serving as a closing attorney.

The Project

Kristen helped unemployed and underemployed homeowners in metro Atlanta avoid foreclosure by accessing relief under HomeSafe Georgia and the National Mortgage Settlement.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project

The Atlanta metropolitan area has been hit especially hard by the ongoing foreclosure crisis. The current wave of foreclosures is driven by a dramatic increase in formerly middle class homeowners thrown into financial distress by layoffs or reduced wages. Until recently, very little assistance has been available to this group. In 2011, Georgia launched the HomeSafe Georgia program using funds received as one of 18 states “hardest hit” by the foreclosure crisis. This and other programs available to Georgians offer mortgage payment assistance for unemployed and substantially under-employed homeowners, but have been widely underutilized to date.

Fellowship Highlights

During their Fellowship, Kristen has:
• Represented 49 clients at risk of foreclosure and advised an additional 172 homeowners about their rights and options
• Helped clients access more than $650,000 in HomeSafe Georgia assistance
• Advocated for program changes that expanded access to the HomeSafe program in February 2014 and August 2015
• Built strong relationships with HomeSafe staff at the GA Department of Community Affairs
• Launched a pro bono project and referred two pro bono HomeSafe cases to attorneys at FordHarrison LLP
• Conducted trainings on loss mitigation attended by approximately 50 housing counselors and 25 mortgage company employees
• Presented information on preserving homeownership to approximately 380 future homeowners at 19 homebuyer education classes

Where are they now?

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Kristen has transitioned to a Staff Attorney position in Atlanta Legal Aid’s Home Defense Program and continues to represent homeowners suffering from temporary hardships while expanding her work to assist homeowners with a broader range of mortgage-related issues.

The Project

Amy will create an “attorney of the day” program in the courthouse to provide legal assistance and outreach to low-income people in Greater Atlanta facing eviction and homelessness, and partner with community groups to educate and empower tenants about their legal rights.

Every week in court, landlord-tenant cases number in the hundreds and the vast majority of tenants face eviction without legal assistance in the Atlanta metro area. In recent years, the rapid pace of gentrification and the foreclosure crisis has jeopardized fair access to affordable housing, displacing low-income communities of color. For the most vulnerable in the community, attaining housing security is an important step toward ending the cycle of poverty and finding stability to move forward.

The Project

Darrius provided legal advocacy in low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by predatory home purchase scams to prevent abusive practices and build wealth.

Throughout the country, communities of color are being targeted for land contracts and other home purchase scams. Land contracts are a predatory form of seller financing wherein the buyer does not obtain title to the home until the final payment is made, and a default at any time can result in a loss of all equity and a swift eviction. Home purchase scams are becoming increasingly common in Atlanta due to several factors including a large inventory of cheap and poorly-maintained homes following the foreclosure crisis, a lack of state regulation, and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Darrius’ work will help prevent more wealth from leaving minority communities.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Darrius has:

  • Advised over 200 clients about home purchase scams, home sale scams, and foreclosure rescue scams
  • Provided direct representation to 40 clients
  • Participated in multi-Plaintiff federal litigation, which resulted in a tremendous settlement for contract for deed clients and created precedent related to contract for deeds transactions in Georgia
  • Created “Know Your Rights” materials in areas including foreclosure law, home purchase scams, home theft scams, equity theft, and loss mitigation for those struggling to pay their mortgage
  • Participated in more than 40 community outreach events, which reached approximately 400 people
  • Featured in a number of media interviews about contracts for deed and other predatory home purchase transactions

What’s Next

Following his Fellowship, Darrius will join Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to work in their Standing with Our Neighbors program. Darrius will provide legal assistance to vulnerable families and manage a legal clinic out of a public school in Atlanta.