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.”

 

 

Make Your WHY A Way of Life

If you’ve ever spent ten minutes with a three-year old, you can vouch for their curiosity. “Why can’t I touch that?” “Why is my hair brown?” “Why does that woman’s face look so old?” While an untimely “why” can put unsuspecting parents in an embarrassing situation, cultivating curiosity is how every child grows. In fact, we should never shy away from life’s
“whys,” even as our children reach adulthood. Here are several “whys” your grown children or grandchildren actually need to hear from you.

• Have you told them WHY they mean so much to you? Many baby boomers grew up in homes where their mother was the only parent handing out hugs and “I love yous.” Many of these adults are still longing for their parents’ affirmation, and those three little words could change their whole life. Don’t be afraid to tell them WHY they mean so much and how you feel about them.

• Have you told them WHY you embraced faith? In John 6:44, Jesus declares, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” How were you uniquely drawn to Christ? Communicating your faith journey can help instill a godly legacy and inspire curiosity. If serving Jesus is the WHY that gets you out of bed in the morning — tell them!

• Have you told them WHY you have certain personal values? Perhaps you believe a solid work ethic is of utmost importance. What about living with integrity? Exercising financial stewardship or planning for retirement? Are you passionate about supporting a certain cause? If it matters to you, it’s worth sharing with them.

Many individuals are excited to learn they can easily turn their WHY into action, by supporting a ministry or cause that aligns with their values. For instance, a Charitable Gift Annuity is a simple way to communicate your WHY to the next generation, receive an income stream for life, and bless Phoenix Rescue Mission in the process. In his book Start with Why, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek said “When [someone is] unclear about your WHY, WHAT you do has no context.” But the opposite is also true, when your loved ones understand WHY, WHAT you do will mean so much more.

 

A Volunteer’s Perspective

There comes a time in our lives when people cross our paths and we are never the same.

Several months ago, at our volunteer event where we feed dinner to our homeless friends at, Thankful Sundays, I heard the most beautiful music coming from the piano. I walked over and sat down on the stage next to the woman and asked about her story. She was homeless and in an abusive relationship and was struggling with staying away from alcohol because it became easier for her to medicate, to numb the physical and emotional bruises. I knew she wasn’t ready for change yet that day but prayed that the day would come when she would be ready to leave. So, I gave her my cell phone number to call me when she was ready.

The day arrived this morning. I received the call from Barbara that she was on the street and was just discharged from the hospital after her boyfriend beat her up pretty badly last night. I scooped her up off the street corner, and with the help of Clifford Danley and Michele from the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Barbara is now safe. Barbara is now among beautiful, positive and inspirational women and staff at Phoenix Rescue Mission's Changing Lives Center for women and children. Tears flowed down my face and I hugged Barbara, saying goodbye to her.

A life was saved today and I believe that Barbara is an Angel among us, that by telling her story, she will change and save the lives of countless women.

 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Phoenix Rescue Mission, I will be forever grateful for all that you do for countless men and women like Barbara.

From a Long-Time Volunteer,

Meredith

 

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!

 

Sponsor a Mother at the Changing Lives Center

Thank you for your support to lift up the mothers at the Changing Lives Center.

Salla, a mother of three at the Changing Lives Center says, "I would have never gone anywhere to get the help I needed if I couldn't have brought my children with me. Not only is the Changing Lives Center a place that I can receive the help and care I need, but a place my children get the best care possible."

Payton and Hudson

"Before coming to the Phoenix Rescue Mission I was addicted, homeless, and in and out of prison. My son saved me. He has taught me so much. I am so grateful to be able to have my son here with me as I go through this program. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else with my son."

"I'm not the only one getting better, my children are too. I drug them through my addiction with me. So they need this support and love as well. With them being here, my hope is that they can help, and be an example to their brothers and sisters who aren't here with us.

Joanna and Nehemiah

Michelle and Kennedy

"I have my nine-year-old daughter with me, and we are very happy where we live, very content, very safe. I have more hope for the future then I've ever had in my life. I've never felt this good about my life, and the future for my daughter. I'm very blessed."