January 29, 2020
University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law students will gain valuable experience by providing legal services to formerly incarcerated people who are experiencing homelessness in the Sacramento area, thanks to a multi-year, $420,000 grant from the nonprofit CARESTAR Foundation.
McGeorge law students and attorneys will help clients by providing legal services that include the expungement of criminal records, reduction of fines and fees, access to public benefits, child support modification, credit counseling and more. The grant will support a medical legal partnership with WellSpace Health, a regional health care provider in the Sacramento area, and the project will operate as a part of the law school’s legal clinics.
“McGeorge staff attorneys and law students, working with a community health center, can make significant headway with some of the most intractable problems facing this vulnerable population,” said Michael Hunter Schwartz, Pacific’s interim provost, who will return to being McGeorge’s dean on July 1. “We’re so grateful to the CARESTAR Foundation for believing in our students and the tremendous difference they will make through this grant.”
Homeless people who were previously imprisoned often fall through the cracks of medical and legal systems, leading to a costly and tragic cycle of recidivism, chronic homelessness, frequent emergency room use and very high health system costs.
“Many formerly incarcerated people wind up on the street due to outstanding legal issues,” said Melissa Brown, director of McGeorge legal clinics. “That’s where we step in to assist the clients in addressing barriers to getting jobs and finding homes, and giving them a chance to get back on their feet.”
The grant comes at a critical time because Sacramento’s homeless population is currently at 5,570 people, the highest recorded number, according to a survey conducted by nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward. Last year, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors formally declared an emergency homeless shelter crisis. While the city and county have devoted substantial resources to address the crisis, there has been no coordinated program to address the complex legal and medical needs of the formerly jailed Sacramento-area homeless.
“The evidence shows that when we eliminate civil legal barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals experiencing homelessness, they have a better chance at reintegration,” said Brown. “A best-case outcome for our clients will include finding jobs, stable housing, and seeing a reduction in emergency room use and other acute care services.”