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GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic

When Gary woke up in a Daly City hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage, a hospital administrator informed him that his car had been towed. Unable to leave his hospital bed, Gary called the tow company to explain why he was unable to move his car. But despite explaining that he was not only hospitalized but homeless, and that his car was also his residency, Gary was told that his car would not be released until he paid $9,000 in fees.

This was in part due to San Francisco’s 72-hour law, which says that all vehicles parked on city streets can remain parked in the same spot for only three days in a row, at which point the city is permitted to tow the car without notice.

Gary spent the holidays hospitalized, trying to focus on recuperating, while his phone rang incessantly with demands to pay mounting tow costs—costs that were rapidly rising with exorbitant storage fees for every day his car remained impounded. By the time Gary was finally released from the hospital, the tow company had sold his only home at a lien sale, leaving him without any shelter or his belongings.

A civil justice gap

Across the United States, minor civil infractions like Gary’s are derailing the lives of low-income people who lack the savings necessary to cover an unanticipated expense. And few cities provide legal resources to support people who can’t afford a lawyer or other legal costs.

Legal resources are more readily available for some specific areas of the law, such as immigration; and in criminal cases, a defendant has a constitutional right to a court-appointed attorney. But what does a low-income person do in child custody cases, or evictions, or when they return to their parking place to find out their car has been impounded?

Founding the Unconditional Legal Clinic

James Lin, GLIDE’s senior director of mission and spirituality, recalls the day in September 2013 that “a preppy-looking white guy wearing a polo shirt” walked into GLIDE and introduced himself as Charlie.

At the time, Charlie Crompton worked as a lawyer at one the largest law firms in the city, Latham & Watkins. But Charlie was looking to help a clientele that rarely entered the privileged space of his office building. Charlie’s interest in public service led him to the Tenderloin, where he saw the need and the opportunity to integrate legal resources with the wide range of social services offered at GLIDE.

Word quickly spread that there was a trustworthy lawyer at GLIDE who got things done, for free. By leveraging his extensive legal network, Charlie was able to streamline the on-site, no-cost, drop-in legal services that would become the Unconditional Legal Clinic.

The free legal counsel and resources folded perfectly into GLIDE’s holistic approach to services, which provides loving non-judgmental support for people seeking to obtain and maintain the essentials of life—housing, jobs, benefits and family—amid the hardship of poverty and related challenges.

Like other services provided at GLIDE, the Unconditional Legal Clinic was born out of a need in the community, and it grew organically in its commitment to that need.

A new partnership

When, in 2014, Governor Jerry Brown tapped Charlie to be a superior court judge, the future of the Unconditional Legal Clinic seemed uncertain.

But Charlie is a creative problem-solver, and he once again turned to his network for possibilities. Having sat on the board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), Charlie went to them with a proposal and ultimately secured the collaboration of LCCR pro bono attorneys, supported in its administrative costs by two years of funding from his old firm of Latham & Watkins.

GLIDE was now a secure bridge for immigrants whose first language might not be English, for refugees who may not know their rights, and for low-income communities of color in need of legal guidance and support, all of whom could benefit from connecting with lawyers committed to protecting and advancing the civil rights of anyone and everyone in need.

Representation and dignity

“It has been very healing,” says Bréyon Austin, who studied Tribal and Criminal Law in Albuquerque before joining LCCR and who for the past year has been working at GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic. “I grew up homeless and will always feel that I am part of this community. I wanted to use my law degree to support people in the same situations I myself experienced.”

This is the uniquely reciprocal nature of GLIDE’s Legal Clinic: not only does it provide members of the community with the legal services they need, but it also offers lawyers an immersive experience into the reality of impoverished communities in San Francisco, people struggling to navigate through a confusing and often unjust maze of legal barriers.

For low-income people fighting to survive on the fragile footings of poverty, the results of minor violations can be devastating, especially considering how quickly they tend to snowball.

A vehicle tow, for instance, can mean the loss of transportation, or shelter, or both, which can lead to loss of employment as well as the loss of access to education and medical care. Not only is retrieving a car from a tow lot expensive, but it is also incredibly time-consuming. And for each day the car remains impounded, further fees accrue, as in Gary’s case.

In 2018, Gary visited GLIDE’s Unconditional Legal Clinic and connected with an attorney from LCCR, who provided him with the legal assistance and representation he needed to file a claim against the City and the tow company.

The result was justice: The judge ruled that the city should not have towed and sold his vehicle considering his inability to comply with the 72-hour parking law.

Of the more than 200 clients served per year by the clinic, more than half are experiencing homelessness and the majority are people of color over the age of 50.

Bréyon says the most common issues she hears about are City confiscation of personal belongings and housing-related matters. For housed clients, she deals with everything from eviction prevention to landlord harassment and uninhabitable living conditions in apartments infested with rodents and mold, and lacking running water, heat and electricity.

“The work is intense because it is bearing witness to injustice,” admits Bréyon. “But the healing comes from knowing I can help people achieve what they need with the representation and dignity they deserve.”

Bréyon Austin, Clinic & Pro Bono Coordinator at LCCR

The Unconditional Legal Clinic, a program of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, is open on a drop-in basis, Monday and Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00 pm, at GLIDE.

This year, the GLIDE Center for Social Justice (CSJ) along with our community partners at Skywatchers have been proud to create a new Leadership Academy with residents of the Tenderloin.

Skywatchers is an arts-based ensemble that has been working in the Tenderloin for eight years with SRO residents, centering performance-based and multi-disciplinary art and stories to highlight and address the concerns and needs of its participants. The Leadership Academy builds on Skywatchers’ and GLIDE’s mutual belief in art and story-telling as a powerful basis of community organizing.

“It’s using art as a way to get in touch with themselves and tell their stories,” GLIDE Advocacy Manager Ben Lintschinger explains.

“We’re showing a group of people how to do that with each other, so that folks can feel safe with each other and talk about their lives and what is important to them and also listen in a way that is nourishing and powerful. That creates the community to do the kind of work we need in order to make systemic change.”

I feel like I’m helping to heal, and I’m being healed at the same time, in this process with Skywatchers. — Shakiri

GLIDE CSJ staff co-designed the Academy’s curriculum along with Skywatchers founder Anne Bluethenthal and local artist and Skywatchers facilitator Shakiri.

“For me, prior to partnering with GLIDE, it seemed like an important piece of work both for raising the caliber of the art we were creating but also raising the discourse we were having in our circles,” says Anne.

“There was a need to contextualize our participants’ stories in a more social, political, historical and cultural frame. Several years ago, I started to write a curriculum for leadership training that would provide a venue in which we were not just making art but specifically in a process of learning together and thinking about our stories in a systemic way.”

Anne says she hopes that their training will help each cohort develop the skills necessary to help one another navigate systems that can often be difficult to navigate alone, and to become advocates for each other and for their immediate communities.

Reggie graduates from the inaugural class of the GLIDE/Skywatchers Leadership Academy. Shakiri, Lauren Small and Anne Bluethenthal present the graduates with flowers, certificates of completion and hugs.

GLIDE and Skywatchers have already successfully run their first 16-week course, and graduated 10 people, most of whom are continuing to meet weekly to share their work and collaborate. The second cohort is currently in session.

Shakiri, who has worked with Skywatchers for the past three years, is a choreographer, writer and dancer, and greatly values the work being done through the Leadership Academy.

“As an artist, I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile and that’s important to me,” she says. “I feel like I’m helping to heal, and I’m being healed at the same time, in this process with Skywatchers.”

“The participants are moving on from the Leadership Academy to creating and participating—dealing with the issues that they are interested in,” Shakiri explains. “They all identified something they were passionate about and then were asked, What do you want to do about this passion? Then they had to figure out what that was, and they’re working on that now. I’m so happy and proud of them.”

Participants’ “passion projects” address a range of pressing issues faced by residents of the Tenderloin, from overcoming domestic violence, to homelessness and public health, including mental health and dietary practices.

I would like to teach people how to cook healthier meals in SROs using things like crockpots, hotpots and electric skillets. — Tony Page

Tony Page is an active Tenderloin resident who regularly eats at GLIDE in the Daily Free Meals program dining room, otherwise known as Mo’s Kitchen. He is now both a performer with Skywatchers and a graduate of the first session of the Leadership Academy. Tony identified his passion as teaching people how to eat healthier in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood notoriously known as a food desert within San Francisco.

“I am very, very passionate about cooking,” says Tony. “One of the changes I would like to see is access to healthier foods in stores, and more vegetables and fruits available in this neighborhood. I would also like to see our community take advantage of resources like food banks, community gardens, farmers markets and co-ops,” he continues.

Both Tony and his fellow Academy member Reggie believe that too many Tenderloin residents rely on corner convenience stores as their primary source of groceries in part because many people do not have a full kitchen in which to prepare fresh meals.

“These foods [in convenience stores] are foods that we really shouldn’t be eating. Reggie is a diabetic and I was born with heart disease, so food is a big deal for us. I would like to teach people how to cook healthier meals in SROs using things like crockpots, hotpots and electric skillets,” Tony explains.

In addition to their passion projects, enrollees did a lot of collective activism around housing, since everybody in the group identified affordable housing as a top concern.

“They’ve done marches to get people to vote, media interviews and community events,” relates Ben. “You need to have connection, be able to listen to and learn from each other, and feel comfortable being authentic with each other in order to do good community-based work.”

Tony Page and Shakiri celebrate his completion of the inaugural session of the GLIDE/Skywatchers Leadership Academy.

Skywatchers and GLIDE are excited about the future of the Leadership Academy, and similar programs in the Tenderloin, for what its graduates can foster in the neighborhood.

“My hope is that we keep finding more and more creative and professional development opportunities for the folks who are participating,” says Anne, “and for everybody who is struggling with housing and poverty and a lack of enfranchisement in this culture.”

“There are many leadership programs in the Tenderloin,” she continues, “a lot of great partner agencies like Hospitality House, the Coalition on Homelessness and Faithful Fools, who are offering different kinds of learning opportunities. My dream is that we connect all of these programs and have a kind of Tenderloin University!”

Stay tuned for more news about the Leadership Academy and its second cohort. In the meantime, to see Skywatchers in action, check out their 8th annual Festival, At the Table: Visions, beginning on Friday, May 17 and running until Sunday, May 19. All performances are free.

GLIDE’s blend of meals, celebration and social justice adds up to a delicious holiday feast for the community

When Rabbi Michael Lezak joined GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice last year, one of his main goals was to connect broader Bay Area Jewish communities to GLIDE’s dynamic work. And what a year it’s been! Michael has brought in hundreds of community members from local synagogues and schools to serve meals, engage in proximate justice training courses, and, with the help of a steady volunteer group and our Daily Free Meals team, bake challah to give out to GLIDE staff every Friday morning on the principle that “you need to feed the people who feed the people.”

Continue reading “Challah for Christmas!”

The Key to Transforming the Homeless Crisis

GLIDE assists people who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness every day, and we have witnessed the effects of the housing crisis on everyone from working families to retirees to disabled veterans on waiting lists for shelter. As a community that values unconditional love and radical inclusivity, we are compelled by our faith and our love to act.

YESONC

That is why we are urging you to vote yes on San Francisco’s Proposition C, a November ballot initiative that will make stable housing accessible for thousands of San Francisco residents who might otherwise be on the street.

We have created a generation of refugees in our own city, of our own people.

The consequences of remaining passive are already apparent — houseless people are swept up by police and public works staff, but have nowhere to go because the shelters are full, or can only offer a bed for a few nights before ejecting them again onto the street. We have created a generation of refugees in our own city, of our own people.

WHAT PROP C WILL ACHIEVE

This measure emphasizes real change by addressing the needs of the more than 15,000 people our homelessness system touches each year. With its passage, San Francisco would finally be able to get its residents off the streets and in permanent housing, shelter and services. This measure would make our city a model for homelessness services nationwide and benefit all San Franciscans by saving lives, cleaning and rehabilitating streets, and creating a community where all its citizens are cared for.

Permanent solutions    
At least 50% of the fund or $150 million must go to housing
Housing solves homelessness! Prop C would pay for construction, rehab, prevention and operating subsidies of approximately 4,000 units of housing, 1,000 of which would serve families. Our goal is to house all those who are currently experiencing long-term or chronic homelessness, suffer illness or disability, or who are families with children.

Transforming our severely underfunded mental health and substance abuse system
At least 25% or $75 million targeting this population
This is funding the San Francisco Department Public Health would use on intensive wrap-around services, street-based care, treatment, drop-in services, residential facilities and housing to care for and stabilize our highest-needs people suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.

Preventing homelessness
Up to 12% of the fund or up to $40 million will be allocated towards prevention
This measure would ensure 7,000 San Francisco households get legal, rental, and other essential assistance so our neighbors can stay in their homes and stop falling into homelessness in the first place.

This is a rare and historical moment where conditions are in place to affect great change for thousands of San Franciscans.

Eliminating the shelter waitlist and keeping our streets clean
Up to 10% or $30 million will be used for to pay for immediate needs 
There are over 1,000 people on our city’s shelter waitlist every night. This measure would provide 1,075 new navigation center beds as well as keep our streets clean by funding public bathrooms and showers.

Prioritizing services
The measure would cap the city’s administrative costs at only 3% of the total funding.

WHO WE ARE

This initiative was crafted with input from dozens of stakeholders, including homeless people, business leaders, homeless service providers, tenant groups, religious organizations, city department heads and a host of concerned San Franciscans.

yes on C

Tech workers rally for Prop C along with local non-profits and housing advocates outside the Chamber of Commerce, October 10, 2018.

WHY NOW

This is a rare and historical moment where conditions are in place to affect great change for thousands of San Franciscans.

As property values and rents skyrocket while tents proliferate, residents are more motivated than ever to see homelessness addressed. Raising revenue to address homelessness has been a great challenge given California’s restrictive laws that require two-thirds approval of voters for any special tax that is dedicated to a particular use.

HOW THIS WILL BE PAID FOR

This would mandate fair share contributions of an average of .5% from earnings over $50 million from SF businesses ($5 per $1,000 annually). Those industries with lower profit margins would receive a smaller percentage increase, while those with higher margins would receive a larger increase.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Our current spending of 3% of the city’s budget does a lot – it houses 7,000 formerly homeless people and creates temporary beds for 2,500. But, we have more than twice that many souls still on the streets. Federal spending on housing has failed to keep pace with rising costs — we must replace that funding at the local level if we want to see a turnaround.

Register to vote by October 22 to vote in the upcoming November 6 election. You can also visit City Hall day-of for last-minute registration).

Visit www.ourcityourhomesf.com for the measure’s comprehensive plan, ways to get involved and more. Call Louis Solano at 415 674 5538 to come volunteer with GLIDE in the field each Saturday.

Volunteer with us on Election Day! You can sign-up here: http://bit.ly/cgotv

Finally, please share this news with anyone concerned about homelessness, advocacy and the rights of tenants. With the power of community, we can radically change the state of housing in San Francisco.

Ben Lintschinger, Advocacy Manager at the GLIDE Center For Social Justice. “Eye on the Ball” is Ben’s semi-monthly series that highlights GLIDE’s most urgent advocacy priorities. 

Building social justice mindsets in law enforcement communities

With the arrival of Rabbi Michael Lezak last year, GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) has been able to expand and deepen the ways we emphasize truth and reconciliation in our efforts around advocacy, staff development, and community building. In April, CSJ welcomed police departments and district attorneys’ offices from around the western United States for our first “An Officer and a Mensch” training. This curriculum seeks to instill greater understanding and care between law enforcement and the people of historically oppressed communities like the Tenderloin.

Rabbi Michael leads the initiative in partnership with Chief Matt Carmichael from the University of Oregon Police Department, and Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

“I look at GLIDE as a lifeboat in a sea of need,” says Matt. “It’s a simple idea, to come where the need is and teach our criminal justice professionals that to be a good leader you have to know your community and who you serve. What better way to learn who you serve than spending time at GLIDE.”

Matt and Jeff along with about 25 law enforcement professionals spent three days at GLIDE, discussing everything from racism in the criminal justice system to the causes of the opioid crisis to what truly compassionate human interactions should look like. They also volunteered as a group in our Meals Program and met with GLIDE staff from across the organization to learn about our values-based approach towards serving our Tenderloin community.

“The vision was to create an opportunity to change the paradigm, to bring law enforcement leaders into this experience of opening our minds and broadening our perspectives, even if it’s just a little bit, to a different way of approaching the issues that affect us all: homelessness, poverty, addiction, mental illness,” says Jeff. “The goal and the prayer is for law enforcement leaders to develop more hope, more understanding and maybe change the way we do the job a little bit.”

GLIDE Senior Director of Programs Kyriell Noon speaking to the group about GLIDE services and community engagement. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin

The training left a positive and lasting impression on the participants, so much so that Rabbi Michael and GLIDE are already prepared to welcome another group after Thanksgiving this year. Michael, along with Director of the CSJ Miguel Bustos, are in the process of refining the curriculum and in conversation with various law enforcement professionals about instituting it as part of the core training for officers in departments across the west coast.

“This partnership at GLIDE is the only one of its kind in the country,” says Matt. “What’s wonderful about what you did for us is that it’s a re-connection, a reminder of our responsibility to leave no one behind. We have to serve everyone.”

Chief Matt Carmichael speaking during the final session of the training. Photo credit: Alain McLaughlin

 

On June 5, San Franciscans voted to make our city a more equitable, safe and just place. Together we made real progress on affordable childcare, limiting the tobacco industry’s influence on children, providing legal representation to tenants, providing just compensation to our public school teachers and lowering the potential for death and injury through taser use. We’re happy to report on the outcomes of the measures that GLIDE took a stand on:
Continue reading “June 2018 Election Wrap-up”

Thoughts from GLIDE staff who attended our pilgrimage to Montgomery

On April 25, a group of 85 people from GLIDE, The Kitchen, the Rafiki Coalition and Stanford Graduate School of Education traveled to Montgomery, Alabama for the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The trip was the culmination of a series of courses organized by Rabbi Michael Lezak, Isoke Femi and James Lin of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice focusing on the issue of justice and reconciliation. We have come back from Montgomery with a range of feelings and thoughts concerning the deep connections between the history of the country and the ongoing challenges we as a society face here in the Bay Area. GLIDE continues to work for personal and social transformation toward a more just and equitable world. The following reflections from members of the Alabama trip speak to the power of this pilgrimage on our own understanding and resolve around the nature of the work ahead.
Continue reading “Reflections on Justice and Reconciliation”

Isoke Femi on transformative learning and loving Blackness

We recently sat down with Isoke Femi, GLIDE’s Maven of Transformative Learning with our Center for Social Justice, to talk about the inspiration and philosophy that ground her approach to group facilitation, and what gives her hope for the realization of a just, equitable and loving future. 
Continue reading “Transformation Is Going to Happen”

Breaking bread with Rabbi Michael Lezak, newest member of GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice

In July 2017, GLIDE welcomed Rabbi Michael Lezak to its Center for Social Justice. This position, a Rabbi at GLIDE, was made possible by funding from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund and generous individual donors. Recently, we spoke with Rabbi Michael about what a rabbi at GLIDE does. Answer: He bakes! 
Continue reading “Challah for Justice!”