On March 12, 2014, Thomas Jefferson School of Law hosted a panel titled Downtown San Diego Homelessness: Its Implications and Solutions, a public panel put on by students taking Global Justice, Self-Determination & the Law.
“The panelist had great responses and were happy to discuss their plans to move forward in resolving the issue of homelessness,” said Valen Hermiz (2L) who is one of the student organizers. “Now that we have brought awareness to people and how they can help, the next step is putting a plan in action. It was great to bring about awareness to so many students, faculty and community members, as the turnout was amazing.”
The seminar class taught by Professor Maurice Dyson examines legal and non-legal advocacy approaches to achieving social justice aims on a local, nationwide, and global scale.
“As part of the seminar, each student must engage in a project that raises awareness and sets out a concrete plan of action for implementing or facilitating positive social change and empowerment to those marginalized communities in society,” said Professor Dyson. “As part of their project, one group from the seminar chose the issue of homelessness.”
Student organizers Valen Hermiz (2L), Priscilla Askar (2L), Karen Barragan (2L), and Sam Kossack (2L) said “We were inspired to create the panel because we feel homelessness is an issue that deserves far greater attention and understanding given that too often, society seems to demonize homeless people.”
“Professor Dyson taught us that strong, focused and organized groups are influential in making a difference,” said Askar. “My group and I put this into practice by organizing a panel of key stakeholders who have an interest in ending homelessness.”
The prominent San Diego leaders who served as panelists included: Thomas Guernsey, Dean and President of Thomas Jefferson School of Law; Todd Gloria, San Diego City Council member and Former Interim Mayor of San Diego; Bahija Hamraz, District Director of the Downtown San Diego Partnership; April Joy Galka, Director of PATH with Connections Housing - a service and residential community designed to reduce street homelessness; Trong Nguyen-Dinh, Co-Owner of The District East Village Sandwich Shop; and Rafael Castellanos, Port Commissioner for the Unified Port of San Diego.
Dean Guernsey pointed out that Thomas Jefferson School of Law is working with members of the East Village, San Diego community through its Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic, Employee Rights Self-Help Clinic and its Center for Solo Practitioners, who work with traditionally underserved populations with much-needed legal services.
The Thomas Jefferson School of Law Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic provides limited pro-bono legal assistance, as well as full service pro-bono legal representation, to the residents and alumni of Veterans Village of San Diego.
TJSL’s Employee Rights Self-Help Clinic conducts free clinics that are held every second Saturday of the month at 495 11th Avenue, at the law school’s Clinical Programs Office in the East Village area of downtown San Diego. The free assistance is offered for both English and Spanish speaking individuals. The Self-Help Clinic provides brief, one-time consultations to self-represented individuals with various labor and employment law problems, including issues related to wage and hour law, family or medical leave, discrimination and harassment.
“This panel proved that there can be broad coalitions formed to address rampant homelessness,” said Krossak. “To be able to get elected officials, business leaders, and homeless advocacy groups to form agreements on what needs to be done was very revealing. This isn't an issue that will be resolved overnight, but at the very minimum, it's one that our community clearly wants to tackle.”
“I am extremely proud of my group and thankful to our panelist, professor, staff, friends, and colleagues, who helped us make our event a success,” said Askar.
“We were humbled with the tremendous support from TJSL students and faculty. We'd like to thank Professor Dyson for his guidance and inspiration, and also the entire Thomas Jefferson School of Law community,” said Krossak.
“I am pleased with the overall outcome of the panel, as I believe it met the overall objective of raising awareness about homelessness in a positive way,” said Barragan. “I was especially interested to see the cohesiveness amongst the panelists, who all agreed that the change begins locally. Moreover, I am honored with the support that we received from Todd Gloria and Rafael Castellanos who were part of the panel. We would also like to thank the Galante Ganci Law Firm for their sponsorship of our event. Renee Galante is an amazing Alumni and mentor who supports TJSL students in any way that she can.”