Arizona Summit Law School Provides Free Legal Services to Help End Homelessness

Located between the Downtown Core and Capitol Mall, the 13-acre Human Services Campus is a collaboration between many different partner organizations, all working to end homelessness in the community. (Photo: Fara Illich)

 

Tucked inside a bare-bones computer lab on the Human Services Campus in Downtown Phoenix, a group of Arizona Summit Law School students and a professor host a free legal clinic every Tuesday.

It’s a relaxed environment, everyone is dressed down. One student with a laptop anchors one of several small round tables, while a queue forms in the lobby/respite area of the Lodestar Day Resource Center (LDRC).

For more than two hours, there’s a steady stream of people. Every case is different but everyone who walks through the door gets the same three things: eye contact, a warm smile and respect.

“We constantly have to think on the fly — you sit down with clients, they tell you their issue, and you have to start brainstorming immediately,” said Kamal Lahlou, a 33-year-old senior law student.

For the students, they’re receiving invaluable hands-on legal experience, but for those experiencing homelessness — it’s perhaps their only chance to get out.

Many individuals face a complex entanglement of legal woes, sometimes associated with the act of being homeless like loitering or camping. Other times, it’s the reason they lost their home in the first place — a felony conviction, prison stint, domestic abuse, civil or misdemeanor fines.

SOMETIMES A FEW HUNDRED DOLLARS IN COURT FINES CAN ROADBLOCK EMPLOYMENT, RE-HOUSING


From left, professor Susan Daicoff along with students Kamal Lahlou and Michael Jones get ready for the last Human Services Campus legal clinic of the spring 2018 semester. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Maricopa County Regional Homeless Court is also located on the Human Services Campus — just down the hall, in fact. It can resolve minor misdemeanors, victimless offenses, and warrants for those who demonstrate a commitment to end their homelessness.

Referrals to homeless court, clearing up records and settling fines represents a large portion of what the Summit legal clinic does. But it runs the gamut from name changes, divorces, landlord-tenant issues, probate, elder abuse and many, many others.

Under the rules of the Arizona Supreme Court, the students can actually practice law in a clinic setting as active members of the state bar, as long as they’re supervised by a licensed attorney, law professor or with other licensed attorneys.

According to the school’s records, the clinic handled 848 legal matters on the Human Services Campus over a four-year period, with one professor and about 3-5 students per semester.

More than 65 percent of graduating seniors take advantage of one of the legal clinics offered by Summit, according to professor Susan Daicoff, who leads the program and oversees the Human Services Campus clinic.

“When clients say, ‘I don’t want to see anybody else, I only want to see you guys’ —  that’s a great feeling,” she said. “I want people to walk away feeling like we treated them well, that we treated them with respect, that we empowered them to handle their own legal matters, came alongside them, and pulled them out when they were stuck.”

SERVING THE UNDERSERVED IS ONE OF THE MISSION PILLARS OF ARIZONA SUMMIT LAW SCHOOL


Michael Jones chose Arizona Summit Law School for the legal clinic experience, getting real world experience as an attorney. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Students must complete at least 30 hours of pro bono or public service during their studies, which can be achieved through the Human Services Campus clinic, or others. There are about 10 rotating clinics focusing on domestic violence, mediation, veterans, bankruptcy, Native American wills, immigration, post-conviction relief and other issues.

Getting real world, hands-on experience was a big selling point for Michael Jones, who has participated in multiple clinics, his favorite being Arizona StandDown, which helps veterans in-need. He said it’s different than an internship or working at a firm as a file clerk.

“I get to see every aspect of the legal process,” he said. “I might not always know exactly what to do, but I always have the resources around me to problem-solve.”

Jones is 40 years old, married with a small child. So having the flexibility Summit offers is important too.

The school accepts students with lower Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores than many other universities, and offers part-time degrees and evening classes — geared toward working adults.

IT’S A DIFFERENT KIND OF LAW SCHOOL


Arizona Summit Law School is an urban campus with clinic and classroom space in the One North Central building of Downtown Phoenix. (Photo: Fara Illich)

It was established to diversify the least-diverse profession, and it’s making inroads in that area. The student body is 41 percent minority, compared with 26 percent at Arizona State University, and 33 percent at the University of Arizona.

“Serving the underserved” extends to the student population as well. The school accepts more students from disadvantaged economic, social or family circumstances.

“When you think of law school, you always think of the high society types,” said Stephen McClain-Lovato, a 30-year-old senior law student. “That general attitude is stripped away at this school. You’re treated as an equal, you’re treated as a peer.” he said, laughing. He’s a Marine Corps veteran, and likes the humanitarian nature of the Human Services Campus clinic. He’s participated in the homelessness clinic multiple semesters, even volunteering during breaks.

DESPITE THE LAID-BACK ATMOSPHERE, THEY’RE TACKLING SOME SERIOUS CASES


There are about 10 rotating legal clinics offered by Arizona Summit Law School focusing on homelessness, domestic violence, mediation, veterans, bankruptcy, Native American wills, immigration, post-conviction relief and other issues. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Part of what makes the clinic so successful is the network of services clustered on the Human Services Campus — enabling students to work faster, more efficiently. Onsite, you can get a state ID, apply for job, submit social security or disability paperwork, find housing programs, get primary and mental healthcare, access substance abuse treatment — in addition to shelter and a hot meal.

The LDRC — where the clinic is located — is often the first stop on the road to ending homelessness.

“It’s an opportunity for individuals who are experiencing homelessness to gain access to legal counsel in an environment that is sometimes not as threatening as the justice system can be,” said Gina Brockdorff, the supportive services manager at the LDRC. “Those who seek out assistance through the clinic are able to face issues that may be the very barrier standing between them and housing.”

Some simple matters require just a few phone calls and can be resolved same-day, others take years. For issues that require court appearances or legal matters the students can’t tackle, they often leverage strong relationships they have with the local legal community.

“One of the things we learned when we first came to the Human Services Campus is: don’t give a man a fish, teach him how to fish,” Daicoff said. “Our clients are in charge of their own advocacy and we’re just helping shepherd the process, rather than fixing their problems for them.”

 

 

How Your Support of Code Red is Saving Lives

Scripture teaches us that far more often than from signs and wonders, God’s direction comes in the form of a gentle whisper in our hearts. Cliff Danley, our Street Outreach Coordinator, is no stranger to nudges from the Holy Spirit. It’s put him in the right place at the right time on more occasions than he can remember. A few weeks ago, while patrolling the streets in the Hope Coach, handing out water, supplies and hope as a part of our Code Red initiative, a small, still voice suddenly altered his route. In an unorthodox move, Cliff decided to take the van off-road. Unbeknownst to Cliff, he was on his way to a divine appointment – one that would ultimately save a woman’s life.

Riding with Cliff that day was Geoff, a regular volunteer at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center and first time Hope Coach passenger. “Writing a check has always been easy, but I felt that God was asking me to do more than that,” admits Geoff, when asked why he decided to take a ride that day. “Actually going out and telling people, ‘Hey we care about you.’ Or asking them ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘How can we help you?’ that’s when you become a link in the chain that leads them to Jesus.” Riding shotgun on the Hope Coach, Geoff was about to become a link in a way he would never forget.

Cliff tells us, “I received a call from Glendale PD to check out a potential homeless situation by 47th Avenue. We didn’t find anything at first, but then I felt led to do a little off-roading. I drove past a broken brick fence into an open field. That’s when Geoff saw her.” Lying face down in the dirt, unmoving, was a young woman. “She had a pink top, otherwise she would have blended in,” says Geoff. “We couldn’t wake her up. Cliff said that in all his years he hadn’t yet come across a dead body… but that perhaps this was the day… Then we felt her breath, just barely. We called the Glendale PD.” That’s when that small still voice nudged both Cliff and Geoff one last time. “While we were waiting, we knelt and prayed that God would keep her safe.” God answered. Shortly after, police and EMTs arrived.

After a few tense moments of trying to rouse her, the paramedics hooked up the IVs and they were able to get her conscious again. Most people would find it hard not to panic in a life or death situation like this one. Geoff had a different experience. “I can’t explain it, but there was a calm that God was in control,” says Geoff. We learned that her name was Anna. She was too weak to stand so they rushed her off to the Emergency Room. “We were just a link in God’s chain,” says Geoff. “That’s what the Hope Coach does – it’s a link in His chain, getting people help who need it. It’s another confirmation for me that God is in control.” It was a combination of God’s direction, Cliff’s willing heart, Geoff’s sharp eyes and your support that gave this woman a second chance in the nick of time. But there are so many others out there, homeless, hurting, caught with nowhere to hide from the deadly summer heat. That’s why it is so important that we reach as many like Anna as we can as early as we can this summer, to give them the chance to find a way off the streets before they find themselves hospitalized – or worse.

 

 

 

A Competition for Good

A manager of 35 years, Scott noticed that there is a unity factor when his team worked together, when they went through, and overcame struggles together, "it drew us closer as a team," Scott Duncan, Value Stream Operations Manager of Honeywell says. "There are employees at Honeywell with family members who went through the program at the Phoenix Rescue Mission." Individuals who were once homeless, facing addiction, or battling life controlling issues, "they saw how the program at Phoenix Rescue Mission benefited not only that person, but their whole family." Honeywell wanted to support the work of Phoenix Rescue Mission, and began supporting our Code Red Summer Heat Relief drive last year in 2017.  Scott and his team at Honeywell donated over 1,650 cases equaling 22 pallets of water to the Mission. "We knew we wanted to do even more the next year. It became a competition for good among our employees at Honeywell."

Today Scott is at Phoenix Rescue Mission's donation warehouse with his Honeywell team, and his sister Becky. Becky, a personnel coordinator at Walmart, sees first-hand the effects of poverty in Phoenix. "We are always handing out water to individuals experiencing homelessness in our community. They are sick, dehydrate, and we can see the struggle that they face, especially in the summer heat explains Becky. With the support of Walmart, Becky was able to support her brother's competitive spirit, by bring her employee into the picture to join forcing in our summer heat relief drive. "Becky was a huge part of Honeywell's success the last two years, says brother Scott." Walmart sold the pallets to Honeywell at a good price and even delivered the truck-fulls of water to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. This year, Walmart needed to make two trips to deliver the  2,000 cases of water donated by Honeywell, equaling 38 pallets of water to distribute to the homeless community in our city.

"We know 100% of ever penny donated through this initiative is going to help someone," Scott explains. "Our goal next year is to fill four trucks!"

Thank you to Scott and Becky, Honeywell and Walmart for your support in helping the hurting and homeless in our community. Your support is making a monumental difference in our community! See you next year for another successful Code Red season!

 

Want to join Honeywell and Walmart and be a part of the life-transformation in your state? Contact Catie at chammann@phoenixrescuemission.org of (602)346-3347 to get started!

A Voice for the Homeless

PHOENIX — The congressional subcommittee hearing led by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) heard from various advocates during a hearing in Phoenix.

One of those giving testimony was Jay Cory, the chief executive officer and president of the Phoenix Rescue Mission. Cory told the panel there needs to be comprehensive drug recovery programs.

“Comprehensive meaning case management services, academic assistance, English as a second language, vocational and development job placements, spiritual growth counseling,” Cory said.

Cory also testified the Phoenix Rescue Mission recently admitted more than 500 men for drug treatment. “The top disclosed drugs of choice for substance abuse were alcohol, stimulant cannabis and opiates,” Cory said. “Opiates were 38 percent.”

Cory said the crackdown on prescription opioids is working. However, Cory said drug users are turning to a cheaper alternative like heroin.

Drugs are also a contributing factor to an increase in the homeless population.

“There’s a large under served population of men, women and families facing poverty, homelessness and trauma in Arizona and especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area,” Cory said.

According to Cory, there are 1.1 million people living below the poverty line in Arizona.

 

 

Light in the Valley of Darkness

Bud has been living on the streets for more than a year and a half. Well, “living” is being generous – more like surviving. As he discusses what his experiences have been like, he lifts the edge of his hoodie to show a spot on his neck where he was stabbed a few months back during an altercation with another homeless man.

We learn he’s survived being hit by a car while riding his bike, countless other fights and even attempted robberies. Bud doesn’t scare easily.

But even he admits the HEAT has got him worried – isolation offers him protection from most threats on the streets, but it’s no good against the heat. If he goes down alone, the chances of him getting back up are close to zero.

That’s why it is so important that we reach as many like Bud as we can as early as we can this summer, to give them the chance to find a way off the streets before they find themselves hospitalized – or worse.

Thank you for helping us spread the word and save more lives this summer!