The King County Bar Association Pro Bono Services team proudly honors Rexanne Gibson as Volunteer of the Month for her work with the Housing Justice Project (HJP) in the Seattle clinic.
Gibson began volunteering with HJP six years ago, where she represents clients who are facing eviction. Many times she meets her clients for the first time hours before their show cause hearing. Gibson volunteers two or three mornings every month.
We recently asked Gibson some questions about volunteering:
Q. What is it like to volunteer at HJP?
A.There are many dedicated lawyers and legal assistants collaborating on cases to achieve the best outcome for clients. The group works from a small, crowded room on the third floor of the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. Some mornings we have six or more clients set for show cause hearings, many of whom come to HJP for the first time on the day of their hearing. Within less than four hours, we see each client, identify the legal issues, and either negotiate the case or take it to hearing.
Other times clients come to HJP well before the scheduled date of their show cause hearing. In these cases, we are able to delve a little deeper into the case, spending more time developing defenses and locating community resources for referral of social issues.
For example, I had one client who came into the HJP clinic as soon as he received a summons and complaint seeking a writ of restitution. The client had an intellectual disability, lived in a rooming house and worked as a dishwasher in a small restaurant. He explained that he had fallen behind in his rent after his employer temporarily closed the restaurant for six weeks for renovations. The client did not know what to do without his regular paycheck; he said nothing to anyone and just worried about what would happen.
The client had no savings and no family or friends from whom he could borrow money. An eviction was likely to result in homelessness for him. With the client’s permission, I contacted his employer, who was willing to advance money to the client to pay his past due rent. We arranged for a payee to issue the client’s rent payments in the future and referred the client to community resources for ongoing social support.
We filed a reasonable request for accommodation on the basis of the client’s disability and represented the client at a show causing hearing, requesting that the client be allowed additional time to pay the past due rent and obtain a payee. With this approach, the client was able to keep his housing and came out of the eviction proceedings with more support. By obtaining a payee and enlisting the help of social service agencies, the landlord’s odds of receiving rent payments in a timely manner increased and the client’s odds of becoming homeless decreased.
Q. What inspires you to volunteer?
A. We need to reduce the number of homeless people in King County. When I walk to and from my parking space on Fourth Avenue to the King County Courthouse, I pass people sleeping in tents and curled up in sleeping bags on the sidewalk. The SODO district is replete with the homeless sleeping in tents, boxes and old vehicles. Tent cities have become a housing staple.
With no end in sight to the problem of homelessness in King County, at least through our work at the Housing Justice Project, we strive to prevent another person from joining the list of homeless people.