Jeffrey Yungman, an attorney based in Charleston, South Carolina, is used to homeless clients walking into his office unannounced. Yungman’s law firm is located in a homeless shelter that provides social services called One80 place. His work is exclusively dedicated to the handling of civil law matters for the residents of the animal shelter.
This story also appeared on the Next City and Solutions Journalism Network
One80 Place is one of the few emergency shelters in the country that offers on-site legal advice. Yungman and a full-time paralegal are at the shelter five days a week. They hold a legal consultation hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays where any resident of the shelter can visit them about their problems. Another lawyer takes care of the veterans’ services even though they are not based at the shelter.
“We have unrestricted access to many of our customers,” says Yungman.
The location is helpful for people with homelessness who do not always have a cell phone or are easy to reach. “If we can’t find someone because they don’t have a phone and they live on the street, they can stop by anytime,” says LeaAnn Adkins, paralegal at One 80Place. “You don’t have to dress up because it’s a fancy law firm downtown.”
Adkins says she gets approached by people who seek help before she even walks into her office. “A lot of my work is done in the parking lot,” she says, “because the people there are waiting for me to say this is the paper you need.”
“We will work on any legal issues that affect their homelessness,” says Yungman. These include eviction cases, tenant and landlord problems, disability cases and people who are late for child benefit. The Legal Department also works with people at risk of homelessness, including renters in disputes with their landlords. “Often people are taken advantage of when they are, let’s just say, on the bottom step of the rental ladder,” says Adkins. The legal department supports tenants in making repairs to their landlords and intervening in rental disputes.
Much of the legal work One80 Place does includes disability claims helping people get approved for government payments so they can afford rent. “Sometimes people are homeless because they just can’t work,” says Adkins. But the disability claims process can be difficult to navigate. Customers may need to act quickly to contest a decision, which can be difficult even for someone with a fixed address. While some attorneys do not represent disability cases until a hearing is scheduled, One80 Place will represent them from the time they apply and help them generate income as soon as possible.
The legal team also spends time helping people get ID when they don’t have it. a lack of ID can be an obstacle to receiving services for people affected by homelessness. “We can get them ID faster than anyone,” says Yungman, because their location in the shelter allows them to find customers and their paperwork faster.
Legal assistance works with homelessness offenses
Yungman says his pre-pandemic case count was around 120-125 open cases, although that case count has decreased because many residents were relocated from the shelter. While that’s a lot, Yungman says many of the cases are still ongoing and awaiting clarification.
The Legal Department does not work on criminal matters due to scholarship funding restrictions. However, criminal cases against the homeless are often carried out at Charleston’s “Homeless court“, Which has existed since 2016 and meets in a conference room in One80 Place.
These rerouting courts are for people arrested for what are essentially the crimes of homelessness – urinating in public, sleeping in the open air, or drinking alcohol in public. Judges at these courts are finding alternatives for people who have become homeless rather than sending them to jail. This may include “attending community treatments or services,” according to the American Bar Association, which helped set up courts across the country. One80Place’s legal team help coordinate with these homeless courts, make sure customers know when and where their court dates are, and help customers get there on time. “It’s a very encouraging atmosphere, chatty and less formal than a city court,” Adkins says of the homeless court.
Yungman had a winding road to his current job. He was a police officer in New Orleans before leaving the police force to study social work at Tulane University and becoming a social worker in 1981. “I was more interested in social justice than criminal justice,” he said. In 1999, Yungman started working at One80 Place, where he realized that many of the shelter’s residents needed help with legal issues. In 2007 he completed his law studies and was hired by One80 Place to coordinate legal advice on site with the help of a scholarship. He started handling divorce – which can also lead to homelessness due to potential loss of income or housing, although he says he now handles fewer of these cases.
Yungman says he has handled about 4,000 cases for the homeless shelter since 2007. He says that homeless shelter work is a combination of legal and social work, and what is needed is “holistic advocacy” to deal with the myriad of problems people face when experiencing homelessness. “Not only do you have a legal problem, if we only focus on legal problems, we are not going to be entirely beneficial,” he says.
The legal team is part of a Housing First model that the shelter uses. Together with a team of clerks, they concentrate on the quick reintegration of residents. “We believe the only solution to homelessness is living, simply,” says Adkins. Caseworkers give their clients case management for at least a year after placement to ensure that they are in a suitable location. “You don’t just bring someone in and say they’re done,” says Adkins.
The legal team also works with Charleston’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Councilto prevent people from going to jail for failing to pay fines. For low-income people, especially those with mental illness or drug problems, a lack of money can lead to a spiral of fees and fines, and potentially jail time. After an Human Rights Watch reportFor decades, states that could not balance their budgets and failed to levy taxes to generate revenue have instead passed the costs on to poor people in the form of fines.
In many cases street Homelessness itself has been made illegalwhich further solidifies the need for legal assistance for the homeless. In recent weeks, LA County made an ordinance It is illegal to sleep, sit, or block public sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces, despite a judgment of the 9th Das UN Human Rights Council noted that the criminalization of poverty in the US “raises concerns about discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
Help does not solve a housing shortage
While legal aid is important to the homeless residents of Charleston, it fails to solve perhaps the biggest underlying problem, the lack of affordable housing. Adkins says this is her biggest challenge at One80 Place. Many people in Charleston use Section 8, which are federal residential coupons. But the process of getting the coupons can be lengthy and complex, says Adkins. If approved, customers can still be illegally discriminated against by landlords when attempting to move. And if they finally make it off an apartment list and get a call for an affordable room, they can miss the call.
“It’s hard to be there when you get a call that says we have a place for you,” says Adkins, which is why it helps to have a lawyer.
This story is available in exchange with Solutions Journalism Network.
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