By: Alex KF Doolittle, Executive Director of Seattle Community Law Center
I believe that homelessness is a symptom of poverty. Homelessness occurs to the most vulnerable among us, and yet, a lot of people are closer to homelessness than they think. Depending on the source of the research, roughly one-third of Americans are just one paycheck away from the streets. The reasons that people are homeless are many and varied, and this is where legal aid helps. Loss of income, landlord disputes, and foreclosures are all examples of hardships that can cause one to become homeless, and they are all examples of civil problems that legal aid helps low-income people solve.
At the Seattle Community Law Center (SCLC), we provide Social Security advocacy to people with disabilities who are homeless or low-income. SCLC helps people living with physical and mental disabilities obtain the resources necessary to overcome barriers to financial and medical stability. For many of our clients, our advocacy helps someone avoid homelessness or helps someone become housed.
The intersection between legal aid and services for homeless people is a strong one, but until recently that connection was never formalized in our community. The Committee to End Homelessness in King County (CEH) recently released their new Strategic Plan to make homelessness rare, brief, and one-time. Within the plans there are components of two strategies that involve increasing access to civil legal aid in situations where legal advocacy will prevent homelessness (Strategies 1.1.G & 2.3.D). While many legal aid organizations (SCLC included) work with agencies that provide homeless services, this is a big step in making that collaboration more intentional, reducing the silos that exist between entities working to combat poverty, and encouraging people from different fields to collectively address social inequity.
During the One Night Count of people who are homeless in King County, 10,047 people were found to be experiencing homelessness on the night of January 23, 2015. This saddening number includes people who were living on the street, in emergency shelters and in transitional housing. It also includes families, children and youth, single adults, veterans, people living with disabilities, immigrants, people who are employed, and many more people from our community.
As civil legal aid advocates, we work to combat poverty. I’m excited by civil legal aid’s inclusion in King County’s Strategic Plan to end homelessness, and I’m hopeful that together will we create positive change for our area’s most vulnerable.