HAP volunteers are making important positive impacts in the lives of homeless individuals, as illustrated by the following cases. Tap on each story to read more.
“We face a lot of challenges in our country and our world, which can seem overwhelming. But there are individuals in our community, here in Philadelphia, that are struggling and can really use a helping hand navigating the legal system. As lawyers, we have the privilege of being able to help.”– HAP volunteer Luke Repici, a partner at White and Williams.
HAP Volunteers and White and Williams Partner Luke Repici, Associate Javier Puga, and Assistant Trish Meissner recently helped a homeless client take the necessary legal steps to obtain his benefits and find a stable living situation. Here’s their success story.
Thank you, Luke, Javier and Trish, for your dedication to pro bono work on behalf of HAP clients!
Lori Lasher, a partner at Reed Smith, is a long-term HAP Board Member and volunteer at HAP’s legal clinic at Project HOME. Here is Lori’s story.
Philly is at its best when our legal and social services agencies and their support teams come together to help someone in crisis.
When Mrs. A (an elderly widow who was being badly abused physically and verbally by her daughter) came to the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) legal clinic at Project HOME in February 2016, she was just looking for help with replacing her citizenship documentation and Social Security card. These critical documents were destroyed when the place where she previously lived was condemned. When I met Mrs. A, she was sleeping on a couch in the hallway of her daughter’s home. Mrs. A was trying to secure housing at Project HOME’s new subsidized housing program called “Francis House of Peace.”
Since Mrs. A’s lost identification documents were needed to complete her housing application, Project HOME staff referred her to the HAP clinic for help. Mrs. A speaks minimal English as Cantonese is her primary language, so the intake started off a little rocky. Fortunately, Mrs. A showed me paperwork identifying Eddie Wong, a Francis House of Peace employee. I called Eddie and he not only helped to explain why Ms. A was at the legal clinic, but he then served as interpreter during the remainder of our intake. After talking with Mrs. A for a while through Eddie, I was astonished to learn that Mrs. A was being abused by her daughter.
Mrs. A clearly needed much more than just paperwork assistance. She needed a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order. One of my first acts was to recruit help from Jon Chan, one of my firm’s IT experts who is fluent in Cantonese. Jon acted as our interpreter when my non-existent Cantonese and Mrs. A’s limited English failed us. Since HAP does not handle protection from abuse cases, and since I was determined that Mrs. A would not go to the hearing without representation, HAP’s Executive Director, Marsha Cohen, connected me with SeniorLAW Centers’s (SLC) Dana Goldberg, one of the SLC’s most experienced lawyers in these matters. Dana was willing to assist me as co-counsel in the PFA matter, gathering the evidence that was needed to be presented at the hearing and showing great compassion toward Mrs. A who was very afraid of her daughter.
While the PFA proceedings were pending, on the night of February 23, Mrs. A was locked out in the rain by her granddaughter who sat in the house, ignoring Mrs. A’s knocking and cries to be let in from the rain. Mrs. A called me and I patched in Jon. Realizing the seriousness of the situation and that I was almost an hour away, I immediately called Project HOME’s Outreach Coordination Center (OCC). Outreach workers immediately picked up Mrs. A in their van, and kept her dry and safe until I could arrive. That night, I convinced the police to force Mrs. A’s granddaughter to let her back into the house.
On May 13, Dana successfully negotiated the maximum 3-year PFA order enforceable against Mrs. A’s daughter, sparing Mrs. A the ordeal of going through a fact-finding hearing.
With the help of Sister Mary Scullion, Executive Director of Project HOME, and Rachel Mak, Deputy Director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Mrs. A has been approved for housing and expects to move into a safe home with a real bed very soon.
I am honored to work in a wonderful city that has such a great network of legal and support organizations and truly caring people who made it possible for us to help Mrs. A and really make a difference in her life. Without the help of the organizations mentioned above, we could not have achieved these wonderful results for Mrs. A. I hope that all who read this will be just a little more proud of your city and those who work tirelessly on behalf of the homeless, the abused and the elderly. Please say thank you to each of them for Mrs. A and me.
Lori is a partner in the global law firm of Reed Smith and Director of the firm’s Pro Bono and Community Services. Lori joined the HAP Board of Directors in 1996, served as Board President in 2004 and currently co-chairs HAP’s Standards & Monitoring Committee. She is also the Adopt Coordinator for HAP’s legal clinic at Project HOME where she has served as a legal volunteer for over a decade. Lori also serves on Project HOME’s Board of Trustees.
January 2016: HAP volunteer Jack Regenbogen met veteran DB at the Perimeter, a drop-in center for homeless veterans in Philadelphia. DB came to the Perimeter to meet with HAP attorney Michael Taub because he had recently been denied housing after the landlord ran a background report as part of the application process. When he sat down to begin the interview, DB held in his hand a copy of the report, which seemed to go on and on.
During the interview, DB pointed out several serious criminal convictions that he denied. Two of the alleged convictions were for Megan’s Law offenses in states that DB insisted he never visited. The background report also indicated that DB had been repeatedly evicted from public housing in the Pittsburgh area.
DB was adamant that he hadn’t committed these crimes and had never been evicted from public housing. DB needed help clearing the background report so that future landlords would give him a chance.
To begin the process, a HAP intern called the jurisdictions listed on the credit report and asked what types of evidence were needed to establish that our client had not committed the crimes or been evicted from public housing. For the Megan’s Law offenses, HAP’s intern was told that DB needed a current picture and to be fingerprinted. A HAP attorney took a close up picture of DB at HAP’s office, and DB paid to have himself fingerprinted and brought his fingerprint card to HAP.
Shortly thereafter, HAP’s intern sent the documents to the listed jurisdictions with a letter explaining their significance. He also included some of DB’s old military records, which HAP obtained, to help corroborate DB’s position. In the meantime, DB was still fighting for housing, so a HAP attorney called one of DB’s prospective landlords to explain that the background report was inaccurate and that it was being corrected.
Due to the evidence HAP provided, both jurisdictions quickly sent notarized letters confirming that the Megan’s Law offenses were not committed by DB. HAP’s intern forwarded this information to the credit company responsible for the background report and the convictions were immediately removed. The credit company also apologized to a HAP attorney for the errors, and indicated that the Pittsburgh evictions were being removed as well. The credit company also agreed to eliminate an entry for a crime in Philadelphia from the report.
Several months after DB’s background report was corrected, HAP happily presented DB with a report that was clear of any Megan’s Law convictions and prior evictions. This report was significantly shorter and DB now had a realistic chance of being accepted for new housing. He hugged HAP’s intern and attorney, saying that he never believed his name would be cleared. The background report was his ticket to housing, but restoring his name was what ultimately mattered most.
July 2015, volunteer attorney Paul Nofer, a partner at Klehr Harrison and new HAP volunteer began representing HAP client Mr. T., a 62-year-old St. John’s Hospice resident. Mr. T.’s application for SSI benefits had been dismissed after he missed a hearing before an administrative law judge. Paul appealed the dismissal to the Appeals Council and the case was remanded for a hearing. At a hearing in January 2015, Paul represented Mr. T, who, although very impaired had a very limited medical and mental health treatment history. At the hearing, the administrative law judge ordered the client to attend a consultative exam to determine the severity of his disabling conditions. Unfortunately, the report from the consultative exam failed to fully capture Mr. T’s level of disability and was internally inconsistent. Paul objected to the report, scheduled a second consultative exam for the client, and requested a supplemental hearing to provide testimony from the client’s case manager regarding the client’s functional limitations.
Following the supplemental hearing, the administrative law judge issued a fully favorable decision, finding the client disabled as of his application date in November 2012. The client is now entitled to approximately $23,000 in back benefits, in addition to his monthly SSI payment.
March 2015: Jared Leon, a new Dilworth Paxson associate, successfully managed a complicated SSI matter for a mother whose two sons were diagnosed with a variety of disabilities that could qualify them for SSI benefits – autism, PTSD, and other mental health issues. The SSI claims were on the verge of being denied. The children had been flagged by The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) as being in a potentially abusive situation, which further complicated the family’ s case. Jared learned that the DHS flagging resulted from one of the children being burned by an unsafe radiator, which the family’s landlord failed to properly maintain in their apartment, thus clearing up any implication of abuse. Jared acted quickly to stay the denial of the benefits and to get the children examined by experts to support the claims of disability. He worked with doctors, the children’s school, and the specialists to fill out the necessary forms, paperwork, and certifications which were used to support his submission to SSI ALJ. In March 2015, the children’s benefits were approved and the family’s income nearly tripled. The mother made a special effort to thank Jared, Dilworth Paxson, and HAP for “profoundly” changing their lives.
June 2014: Volunteer Angela Guarino from Blank Rome went the extra mile and had a successful outcome with her very first HAP case! RG, a 52-year-old woman suffering from serious mental illness was fleeing extreme domestic abuse. She first appeared at the Eliza Shirley Clinic in February, 2014. She presented paperwork indicating that she had an SSI disability hearing pending before an administrative law judge which was scheduled for the following month. After being briefed on RG’s situation by fellow Blank Rome volunteer Bridget Mayer, Angela requested and obtained a continuance of the hearing so that she would have time to accumulate medical and other evidence and prepare the case. Angela worked diligently with RG who was very distraught throughout the process, due to being a victim of domestic abuse and to having had a very chaotic and transient living history which included multiple homeless shelters and abuse facilities. While displaced, RG was also receiving intensive treatment as an outpatient at a mental health treatment facility. Angela collected all relevant medical records, worked with RG’s therapist and doctor to complete a Social Security form in support of her disability argument and assisted RG’s sister with the preparation of an exhaustive support letter.
On the day before the hearing, RG informed Angela that she was feeling very anxious and didn’t want to attend the hearing. Angela arranged to pick up RG the next day by taxi and accompanied her to the hearing where Angela presented the client’s testimony, in addition to an oral argument. In June 2014, Angela received a Fully Favorable decision awarding RG ongoing SSI benefits as well as two years of back benefits. Angela, her team at the Blank Rome law office, and client RG were thrilled by the outcome.
May 2014: The young man, Sam, was staying in Impact Services transitional housing, which assists adult men and women who are struggling with addiction. He was in a program designed specifically for veterans.
Sam served twice with the United States Army and was deployed to Iraq. During his first tour, Sam witnessed a severely traumatic event. An Iraqi civilian, whom he developed a friendship with, was shot right in front of him. Sam assisted in transporting the dying victim to medical personnel. This event has had a lasting impact on Sam. He was discharged honorably and subsequently reenlisted.
During his second enlistment, he began experiencing many of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD and began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. This led to an “other than honorable” discharge. It is extremely difficult for veterans to receive benefits with a “bad discharge.” Fortunately, Sam’s first enlistment was honorable.
Sam called HAP in hopes of getting service-connected benefits for his PTSD and other related conditions. HAP attorney, Neha Yadav, helped him Sam gather medical documentation and wrote a letter brief on his behalf to the Veteran’s Administration (VA).
In November 2014, Sam was given a fair disability rating by the VA and was awarded service-connected benefits (over $1,300 per month going forward). He also received several thousand dollars in back benefits. Sam is now able to continue his schooling.
April 2014: HAP first met “Robert” at a clinic at Impact Services. After the meeting, Gabriel Vidoni (Gabe), a HAP volunteer and an associate at Pepper Hamilton, requested inpatient treatment records dating back to 1978 from Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. The records, which the VA had never obtained, revealed that the Robert’s symptoms of schizophrenia began while he was on active duty.
On Robert’s behalf, Gabe filed a Fully Developed Claim, an expedited claim that allows the VA to make an immediate decision if all necessary information is in the file. Gabe wrote a mini-brief in support of the application explaining why Robert was entitled to service-connected benefits, and why the VA shouldn’t delay in making the decision.
Upon receiving the application, the VA scheduled a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor, who conducted the evaluation, agreed with Gabe’s position –that Robert’s mental health problems began in 1978 while he was on active duty. As a result, the VA granted Robert 100% service-connected benefits of $2,858/month, tax-free. Also, because Gabe filed a Fully Developed Claim, the veteran was entitled to back benefits for an entire year, even though the claim was only pending for three months.
Thanks to Gabe’s thorough research and representation, Robert received over $30,000 in retroactive benefits in addition to the future ongoing monthly payments of