Offering Hope and a Fresh Start through Legal Aid

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“The joy that comes from meeting with clients is to see the courage that they have in difficult circumstances.  It’s never too late to start in a new direction,” shares Deborah Rhodes, an Ignatian Volunteer in San Diego working with the Homeless Advocacy Program (HAP) of Interfaith Community Services.

The Homeless Advocacy PrDeborah Rhodes meets with clients at Homeless Advocacy Projectogram is a center where people come to meet with volunteer lawyers to address legal concerns.  Clients are those whose income is a percentage of the federal poverty line, people in temporary housing, and people with no housing at all.

Deborah brings her professional experience as former US Attorney and lawyer with the Department of Justice to this service role.

“We see twenty to twenty-five clients a day.  Our role is to listen, and to give hope, guidance, and new direction.  Many who come face a spiral of difficult circumstances.  Some are the result of their own poor choices, and some are the result of no choice of their own – they lost their job, had trouble with credit, and are now unable to keep their homes.  Often they need help sorting out how to begin to address these concerns.”

“We try to give them hope and help them get what they need.  Some guidance is legal, and some is general advice and helping create plans of action.  We do not take on legal representation of clients and go to court, but provide referrals to other organizations that take on pro bono cases and have expertise in those areas.  We also point people in the right direction so they can begin to address the issues themselves.”

“Our clients face the same legal issues as others – dealing with creditors after losing a job; disputes over contracts; family law issues involving divorce, child custody and support; landlord-tenant issues – a broad array of legal issues.  We don’t take the cases on, but provide general information and referrals to specialists.”

“The joy comes in seeing the gratefulness of clients who leave with hope and some sense of what they can do next.”

Deborah describes that she was drawn to IVC because she was “looking for something to do that would allow me to continue making a contribution in the community.  I was drawn to the opportunity to live the Good News of the Gospel and put what we believe into action.  I wanted to be involved in the community and serve people in the name of Christ.”

“I spent the last four years of my career as US Attorney in Mobile, Alabama.  I worked with federal, state and local law enforcement and community organizations, to bring people together around crime prevention, intervention, and re-entry programs.  I saw the remarkable impact of what can happen in these community collaborations.  It’s very rewarding.”

“More recently, I’ve also become involved through IVC with a start-up nonprofit called Rise Up Industries.  It’s modeled after Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.  We’re working on gang prevention, intervention, and re-entry programs.  We’ve started with tattoo removals and will begin mentoring, job training, and educational programs to offer positive alternatives.”

Deborah also works part-time as COO of a local nonprofit organization in San Diego.  “I’m happy to say that we’ve just hired an IVC Volunteer who works two half-days a week.  She brings humility, energy, and love to her service.  Partnerships between IVC and community organizations are a wonderful way to make a difference – It’s a great model.”

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