Charity Lawyers May Be Making Homelessness Worse

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    A homeless man panhandles in New York City.

    On paper, it sounds like a noble endeavor: two local law firms give pro bono assistance to homeless people who are unable to afford their own representation.

    The problem is that the free legal work might be worsening those peoples' situation.

    Everyone agrees that homeless people need services to get them off the street. Often, that includes mental health care an substance abuse counseling, not to mention job training.

    But the pro bono lawyers at fims like O'Melveny & Meyers and Morrison & Foerster don't really help on that front. Instead, they contest legal citations, typing up court resources while their clients continue to deteriorate out on the street. Because it can take months -- or even years -- for a court case to reach a conclusion, affected parties can get stuck in a sort of limbo where nobody's helping them get off the streets.

    The law firms claim that they often make arrangements for their clients to receive services in exchange for resolving citations. But no numbers are available about how often that actually happens.

    Meanwhile, tickets and warrants aren't the deal-breaker that many people think they are. According to the mayor's office, hotels that serve homeless people don't deny housing based on ongoing criminal proceedings.

    The real problem, of course, is that a lot of people simply don't WANT treatment. Well, what then?