A new clinic created by the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law is the nation’s first to provide legal services to formerly incarcerated individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Homeless Advocacy Clinic is just the fourth legal clinic at a California university to help homeless clients – joining programs at UCLA, University of California at Berkeley and Pepperdine University – and the first anywhere to focus on unhoused individuals who have been incarcerated.

“Our clinic is targeting a severely underrepresented client community with the highest level of need,” said Ron Hochbaum, clinic director and assistant clinical professor of law. “These individuals make up a disproportionate share of individuals experiencing chronic, street homelessness.” 

Students provide legal services that include the expungement of criminal records, reduction of fines and fees, access to public benefits, child support modification, credit counseling and more. Students will be able to develop expertise in several areas of the law and work with clients with multiple intersecting legal concerns.

“Our Homeless Advocacy Clinic, working with a community health center, can make significant headway with some of the most intractable problems facing this vulnerable population,” said McGeorge Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz.

The Homeless Advocacy Clinic is funded by a $420,000 grant from the CARESTAR Foundation, a non-profit focused on improving health outcomes for all Californians using racial equity as a lens.

This is the seventh legal clinic operated by the McGeorge School, a central part of the school’s focus on experiential learning.

Kaitlyn Monck, a part-time law student, works to secure housing for women experiencing homelessness at Women’s Empowerment, a Sacramento agency.

“Understanding this clientele on a more trauma-informed basis allows me to actually listen to their needs and see more clearly the many barriers acting against them to reach sustainability,” Monck said. 

“It has highlighted the bigger picture that has led to homelessness, and has helped navigate much of how I provide advocacy. We get to be a part of a program that puts the client first, works to break cycles of dehumanization and advocates for their rights to rewrite the next chapter of their story.”

The clinic comes at a critical time as Sacramento County’s homeless population is estimated at nearly 6,000, almost a 20% increase from 2017 totals, according to a survey conducted by nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward. 

Recently, the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a “Master Siting Plan” allocating $100 million dollars to temporary shelter for the City’s unhoused. The plan calls for 20 temporary shelter sites of campsites, tiny homes and emergency shelters throughout the city.

“Many formerly incarcerated people wind up on the street due to outstanding legal issues,” said Melissa Brown, director of McGeorge’s legal clinics.

“That’s where we step in to assist clients in addressing barriers to getting jobs and finding homes, and giving them a chance to get back on their feet.”

“I truly believe that the Homeless Advocacy Clinic is the perfect example of an educational framework that prioritizes both student and community needs,” Hochbaum added. “Students will learn how to apply theory to real world practice, while clients will receive critical—and in some cases lifesaving—legal representation.”

Brian Taghadossi is a second-year law student and veteran who formerly experienced homelessness.

“As a U.S. Army combat veteran that experienced homelessness years after leaving the military, I know firsthand how important it is for the homeless to get connected to the right services,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t had access to such services.”