Amidst the pandemic in October 2020, I applied for a position with a local non-profit organization in Sacramento called Women’s Empowerment. After three years of working as a legal secretary for a firm that handled landlord-tenant law, I found myself wanting to advocate for the unhoused during a time when housing was and currently still is, something that is lacking in the greater Sacramento region and across the United States.
The non-profit, Women’s Empowerment, is a job-readiness program that works with women and children that are experiencing homelessness. It is the agency’s goal to educate and empower these women who are experiencing homelessness with the skills and the confidence necessary to get a job, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and regain a home for themselves and their children.
Currently, I work as the agency’s Housing Specialist. In this role, I am responsible for providing housing education, financial education, and housing advocacy for the more than 1,700 women who have walked through the doors of Women’s Empowerment. My experience at Women’s Empowerment has helped me see a system that lacks both the knowledge and the resources necessary to address the needs of those in poverty. Due to my knowledge and experiences, when I saw the creation of the Homeless Advocacy Clinic at McGeorge School of Law I knew I needed to get involved as quickly as I could.
As an evening student, it is difficult balancing full-time employment, law school, externship and internship requirements, and a social life. When I learned about what the Homeless Advocacy Clinic offered as services, I immediately applied. Working with the women at Women’s Empowerment, I have become aware of the barriers that people in poverty face in order to access basic legal services. People who are unhoused often lack access to public benefits, medical needs, expungement services, and basic information pertaining to their rights as humans.
My experience thus far in the Homeless Advocacy Clinic is one that I am going to take with me into my legal practice moving forward. Usually our scope of services are limited to things like Social Security applications, expungements, and traffic court violations; but our group was able to assist one of our clients in her pursuit of a domestic violence restraining order. Here in the United States, one in four women are victims of domestic violence, but for women that are experiencing housing instability, it occurs much more frequently. Our semester was filled with research on the legal requirements to win the case, hours of fact gathering with our client, sessions with our supervising attorney on trauma-informed lawyering, and ultimately a hearing in front of a Superior Court judge.
In the end, we were able to have our client be awarded a permanent restraining order and have a moment of peace after years of abuse, but it made me realize that the justice we are pursuing for our clients is only the first win in a long battle towards equality.
The Homeless Advocacy Clinic is meeting an urgent need in Sacramento County, and it is something that I am honored to be a part of. The wins mean something that is difficult to explain because they often provide hope to people who have been stuck in cycles of empty promises and hopelessness. I am excited to continue my legal career in social justice, and continue to provide advocacy for those whose voices are continuously muffled.
By Kaitlyn Monck, a third-year law student at McGeorge School of Law.