June 2013

Written By Alex KF Doolittle, Executive Director
Seattle Community Law Center

Have you ever walked down the street in your city, or any city, and walked right by someone who is homeless without even realizing it? Some of us are in a hurry to get to the next meeting or to get out of the rain. Some of us simply do not have anything to offer, this time. Others of us feel that homelessness is such a big and overwhelming problem that the only way to manage the feeling is to avoid the issue, for now. Bringing the issue back into focus, establishing ways that we can serve people who are without homes should be a priority. There are some small systemic changes that we can make within the legal profession to serve people who are homeless.

The problem of homelessness is faced by over 600,000 people each year in the United States. [1] Approximately half of those people also live with mental illness. [2]  The combination of homelessness and mental illness is an issue that is being worked on every day by the Equal Justice movement in Washington State through the work of many Alliance for Equal Justice partners, including the Seattle Community Law Center (SCLC). SCLC provides Social Security advocacy to people with disabilities who are facing the risk or reality of homelessness. SCLC helps people with disabilities in crisis who are seeking to prevent the termination of their only realistic source of income. We also help people with disabilities when they are homeless and applying to receive Social Security benefits.

SCLC’s Disabled Homeless Advocacy Project (DHAP) is designed to deliver services to a population that may be geographically very close to our service area, but is logistically very difficult to reach without making some technical changes. Substantively, providing legal services to a person who is homeless is similar to serving someone who is housed. The legal standard does not change, and the facts of each client’s situation must be applied and analyzed as they are in every case. However, setting up the structure and process of delivering legal services to people who are homeless requires us to make some technical changes to our every day vision of how a law office should work. Some administrative changes can make it possible to move aside barriers that prevent us from engaging with and adequately serving people who are homeless. (more…)

Written by Jorge Barón, Executive Director
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Alliance advocates at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project are pleased to share information about some significant developments in immigration policy, some of which are the direct result of work supported by the Alliance.

Franco-Gonzales v. Holder Class Action: Right to Appointed Counsel for Some Immigrant Detainees

Late last month, NWIRP advocates received word of a crucial victory in a case that has been pending for three years: the class action case known as Franco-Gonzales v. Holder, in which NWIRP has partnered with a number of organizations (including the ACLU of Southern California, Public Counsel, Mental Health Advocacy Services and the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell) to challenge the federal government’s failure to provide protections to individuals with serious mental disabilities facing deportation while in detention.

Earlier in the year, the federal judge overseeing the case had indicated at a hearing that she was prepared to issue a ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs. Then on Monday, April 22, the government made a pre-emptive announcement that it was going to be changing policies at the national level to provide additional protections to individuals with mental disabilities facing deportation. Among the protections the government announced was that they would plan to provide a qualified legal representative for those individuals. (more…)