Abraham Lincoln University’s legal clinic for homeless women living on skid row began in October 2016. Professor Daniel Jung accompanied by students of the school’s Juris Doctor program teamed up with the Downtown Women’s Center to help homeless women with their first steps toward expunging criminal offenses off of their records.
The Downtown Women’s Center was founded in 1978 and is the only organization in Los Angeles exclusively dedicated to addressing the needs of women overcoming poverty and homelessness on Skid Row. The Center materialized from the friendship of Rosa (a homeless woman) and an outreach worker named Jill Halverson. Jill, who became close to Rosa, opened the center which is now over 38 years old. They have reached thousands of women and transformed countless lives.
In May of this year, Professor Jung used ALU resources to take the services of the expungement clinic a step further. Working with ALU’s tech team on campus, Professor Jung implemented a virtual volunteering system that allows students attending ALU from all over the country to participate virtually, making it the first online law clinic in the United States. Not only does this provide invaluable experience to the school’s students, but it also provides additional assistance to the many women who show up for the clinics on the last Friday of every month.
“Our goal is to expand our services,” Prof. Jung explained “but this means that we need more volunteers, which means extra time out of my student’s already hectic schedules to drive downtown for two hours. The virtual option helps do what ALU has set out to do with their class schedules, it makes for a more flexible solution to the age-old work/ study balance and it really helps women in need.”
The clinic’s volunteers serve women on a first-come, first-serve basis, so some women are paired with student volunteers attending in person while others are swiftly seated in front of a computer with a live, friendly voice on the other end, guiding them to the appropriate paperwork and navigating their questions.
The fact is, expunging offenses can be the difference between health and illness or survival and intense poverty for these women. It means that they now have a shot at a decent job, housing and in some cases, can be reunited with family members. When asked what one of the biggest challenges is in helping the women at the Downtown Women’s Center, Professor Jung answered, “Convincing them that it’s ok to admit their homeless status to a judge.” He explained, “Unfortunately, homeless women are embarrassed by their homelessness and when appearing in front of a judge rarely if ever, state that they are homeless.”
Because of this, courts will invariably fine homeless individuals amounts that are impossible for them to pay. He hopes to eventually convince these women that being homeless doesn’t have to be a permanent way of life for them.
What is also especially challenging is assisting women with psychological illnesses. Unfortunately, homeless individuals with psychological illness are the majority of the habitants of Skid Row and they also have the most difficulty with the law and with appearing in front of a judge. This could lead to further citations and counts of criminal activity, setting up homeless women and men with mental illness to carry a perpetual criminal record.
Cleaning up these women’s rap sheets won’t guarantee that they get off the streets, but it’s a major first step. Professor Jung hopes to increase the number of clinics that he hosts each month and has already expanded the subject matter of the clinic. The legal clinic now helps women with general legal issues such as how to handle traffic tickets, delinquent payments, housing issues, where to get immigration help, civil restraining orders and employment job rights. Stay up-to-date on our clinic’s development by checking out our Facebook page!