University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law recently launched a Homeless Advocacy Clinic to provide legal services to formerly incarcerated people who are experiencing homelessness in the Sacramento area.
The Homeless Advocacy Clinic is one of just four such law school clinics in the state, joining programs at UCLA, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine. However, McGeorge will be the only clinic working to eliminate barriers to housing specifically for homeless clients who have had contact with the criminal justice system.
“This is significant because these individuals make up a disproportionate share of individuals experiencing chronic, street homelessness,” said Ron Hochbaum, McGeorge assistant clinical professor of lawyering skills and director of the Homeless Advocacy Clinic. “Our clinic is targeting a severely underrepresented client community with the highest level of need.”
Students will 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 Michael Hunter Schwartz, dean of McGeorge School of Law.
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 Homeless Advocacy Clinic is funded by a multi-year, $420,000 grant from the nonprofit CARESTAR Foundation.
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.”