This happy group of folks was very honored recently to accept Baker Donelson’s second NLADA Beacon of Justice Award in Washington, DC. We were so proud to be included in the same company as firms who have been doing great work on important issues like immigration detention, housing, and serving those with mental illness through medical-legal partnership. A full list of the award winners is available here.
Pictured left to right are Tiffani Williams, Sherry Dolan, Nancy Degan, Lisa Borden and John Calender.
For Baker Donelson’s part, this year’s award came as a result of sustained firmwide efforts in the fight against homelessness. We began devoting ourselves to helping those experiencing homelessness through pro bono many years ago, and are continually expanding that work. From direct legal assistance at homeless shelters across our footprint, we have also broadened our work to homeless court programs, partnering with service providers at large scale events, and engaging in policy advocacy at home and abroad.
What began with our involvement in a New Orleans homeless shelter legal clinic started by Judge Jay Zainey came full circle over the last year or so. Over the last 7 or 8 years, we have worked with Judge Zainey to establish new HELP clinics in Birmingham, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, where we have offices. Our attorneys (Kelli Thompson, Will Norton and Lori Patterson) continue to coordinate the staffing of those clinics on a regular basis, using both Baker Donelson attorneys and volunteers from other firms. HELP clinics offer consultation and representation on a host of legal issues, from minor criminal matters to public benefits, from consumer debt and bankruptcy to housing. During the last two years, New Orleans Shareholder Nancy Degan has kicked it up a notch – she made expansion of the HELP program to ten new cities nationwide a part of her mission as the Chair of the ABA Section of Litigation. Through Nancy’s efforts, with the able assistance of Sherry Dolan, HELP clinics have been planted in Houston, Miami, Phoenix, Portland, ME, San Antonio, St. Louis, Seattle, and Tampa, as well as the aforementioned Knoxville, bringing the total of HELP cities to 30!
Our Birmingham and New Orleans offices have also worked with those respective cities to start homeless court programs, where individuals charged with misdemeanor offenses are helped to get a fresh start instead of going to jail or being saddled with fines they can never hope to pay. These programs assist the individual experiencing homelessness to connect with and use programs and services that will help them toward their ultimate goal of having a permanent home. Sherry Dolan in our New Orleans office continues to coordinate that effort, and I am fortunate to be able to coordinate the Birmingham program. We’ve also been using the experience gained in coordinating HELP clinics to offer large scale services at Project Homeless Connect events, where hundreds of people are seen in a single day. Courts are typically a part of this effort as well, allowing volunteer attorneys to help the individuals get their cases handled at the event.
Baker Donelson’s Washington, DC office handles a myriad of legal issues for the nation’s largest homeless shelter, Community for Creative Non-Violence. And we have recently made our first foray into international policy advocacy, carrying the issues raised by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to Human Rights Council delegates at the United Nations in Geneva.
We believe it’s possible to end homelessness as we know it today – and we will continue to do our part in that fight until the job is done.