Category Archives: homeless

Organizations create legal safety net for the homeless in Frederick Co.

No Published CaptionFor homeless Frederick County residents, perseverance and community support are key to navigating the legal system, according to advocates, the Frederick News-Post reported today.

“Attorneys provide free or low-cost legal advice to homeless families in cases ranging from minor criminal charges, such as panhandling or loitering, to bad debt and landlord-tenant disputes, which may have led to their becoming homeless,” the article said.

“When it comes to civil cases, several organizations in the county provide services, including the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, the Frederick County Bar Association and the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau,” the article continued.

“The Legal Aid Bureau served 1,871 people in Frederick County in 2011, and an additional 69,305 people throughout the state.

Alecia Frisby [above], a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said the office also refers about 20 cases each month that can’t be handled by her office to the bar association for assistance.

“When it comes to issues in court — criminal or civil — the homeless face more hurdles than other residents, dealing with problems such as how to receive notices from the court without an address or maintaining documents that can help their cases without a place to store paperwork.

“While most people can establish mailing addresses, Frisby said, phone access is a far greater challenge. In cases that move quickly — such as administrative agency appeals and those in District Court — she sometimes needs to ask clients without phones to return to the office several times a day, just in case they need to follow up on something.

“The Legal Aid Bureau tries to be flexible to help with the current needs of their clients, she said. In recent years, they have added weekly clinics that address unemployment and bankruptcy issues.

“‘I think we do the best we can. We’re constantly evolving. We’re always trying to determine what are the needs of our client base and how can we respond,’ Frisby said.”

To read the entire article, click here.

Tipping the scales in housing court

From an op-ed in The New York Times: It’s easy to tell who’s going to win in eviction court. On one side of the room sit the tenants: men in work uniforms, mothers with children in secondhand coats, confused and crowded together on hard benches. On the other side, often in a set-aside space, are not the landlords but their lawyers: dark suits doing crossword puzzles and joking with the bailiff as they casually wait for their cases to be called.

Millions of Americans face eviction every year. But legal aid to the poor, steadily starved since the Reagan years, has been decimated during the recession. The result? In many housing courts around the country, 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys and 90 percent of tenants are not. This imbalance of power is as unfair as the solution is clear.

To read the entire op-ed, click here.

Legal Aid represents disabled woman barred from apartment for wrong breed of service dog

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Hazel Sanders, an elderly, disabled Howard Co. woman, can’t move into a subsidized apartment because the management of the complex says her service dog–a Rottweiler–is “inherently dangerous” and it won’t allow a service-animal exception to its no-pets policy.

Anne Benaroya, an expert on animal law quoted in today’s front-page Baltimore Sun article, said the policy shows the potentially far-reaching consequences of a recent Court of Appeals ruling on pit bulls that quoted a 2000 study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The study concluded that Rottweilers and pit bulls made up more than half of human deaths from dog bites.

Legal Aid staff attorney Sara C. Wilkinson, who represents Sanders, said the argument doesn’t hold up, arguing there’s no Maryland law on Rottweilers, her client’s dog has no history of aggressive behavior, and that  “most importantly, federal anti-discrimination law protecting the disabled should trump a brief mention of a 12-year-old veterinary article in a case regarding pit bulls.”

To read the article, click here.

Free services for homeless and at-risk for homelessness

On Thursday, Aug. 2,  Baltimore Project Homeless Connect is offering free services to the homeless and people at risk for homelessness at M&T Bank Stadium. The free event is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Services offered include obtaining ID and birth certificates, resume and job assistance, basic health care, legal advice, food stamps, community resources, personal well-being, and housing information. A free box lunch will be provided.

For more information, call 410/895-1563 or email

Boston study looks at practical impact of legal representation in eviction cases

Without representation by counsel, many vulnerable tenants forfeit important rights, lose possession of homes they could have retained, and forego substantial financial benefits — according to a study released today by the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF).  Funded by The Boston Foundation, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and the BBF, this study, “The Importance of Representation in Eviction Cases and Homelessness Prevention,”  comes as a follow-up to Gideon’s New Trumpet , a 2008 Boston Bar Association (BBA) report examining the civil right to counsel in Massachusetts.

“We funded this study because we felt it was important to take a good, hard look at the practical impact of legal representation in an area where losing a case means losing your home,” said BBF President John Donovan. “What’s unique about the final product is that it measures the results of representation in a segment of eviction cases involving low-income families using rigorous data collection techniques and analysis.”

To read the report, click here.

Social workers team up with Legal Aid lawyers

When clients come to Maryland Legal Aid, they’re often desperate. In addition to a pressing legal problem, they’re grappling with other issues that drive their lives into a crisis — no money, no housing or no medical care. Sometimes all of the above.

You could say they need a social worker almost as badly as a lawyer.

And you’d be right.

That’s why Legal Aid and the University of Maryland School of Social Work created a program that integrates first-year graduate social work students into the nonprofit law firm’s practice in downtown Baltimore.

“Clients come to us with a host of problems — the presenting legal problem, plus community-based needs,” said Cornelia Bright Gordon, chief attorney of Legal Aid’s administrative law and intake units. “For example, many people have barriers, such as mental health issues, that may interfere with the success of the legal problem. They need access to services to make the legal work stick.

“Since Legal Aid is the law firm of last resort, our clients are in true crisis,” Bright Gordon said. “They come in with threats of immediate eviction, no money or food in the house, and some are desperately ill, with no access to medical services and no insurance.”

The three-year-old project helps stabilize clients and bring their lives back to a state of equilibrium. “It’s a collaborative process between a lawyer and a trained social worker with hands-on, clinical therapeutic experience who is supervising four interns,” she said.

To read the entire Daily Record column, click here.

Woman homeless after Section 8 wants her to move into condemned house

Vanessa Davis had to sleep in a park for a few nights while waiting for repairs to an apartment that Baltimore City’s Section 8 had not approved for occupancy. Meanwhile, the housing department made rental payments to the landlord for a year on the unoccupied Reservoir Hill apartment, WBAL-TV reported last week.

Davis, who is disabled and is staying with relatives, had been dropped by Section 8 after it discovered she hadn’t moved in to the condemned house, but was reinstated last week after investigative reporter Barry Simms called.

“Someone dropped the ball,” Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Kay Harding told Simms. “Someone approved this house without verifying the use and occupancy permit was there. This property should never have been rented, but they were trying to penalize my client because she didn’t move in.”

To see the report, click here.