Law students reaching out to homeless community
A free advice service offered by University of Adelaide law students is helping homeless residents access their legal rights.
The university's Law School has established a Homeless Persons Legal Advice Service at the WestCare Day Centre in Wright Street in the CBD.
The service operates one day each week and four students enrolled in the Clinical Legal Education program provide free preliminary legal advice and facilitate referrals under the supervision of staff members Margaret Castles, Alex Wawryk and Kathleen McEvoy.
"The rationale behind the service was to find a better way of providing legal advice to homeless people and it's a way for the university to reach out to the community," Dr Castles said.
"We are motivated by social justice, social inclusion and the law's relationship to that, and we aim to empower people who are suffering the effects of homelessness and ensure their legal rights can be met."
She said aside from their economic and social struggle, homeless people face significant difficulties in accessing legal services.
"There was a strong tradition of homeless legal advice by law firms in the eastern states but there was no similar structure in Adelaide,"
"If the law is to foster and maintain a sense of social justice and community spirit, the legal profession must work to fill the gap that exists in the justice system.
"Providing advice to a particularly focused and disadvantaged group has been extremely valuable for our students - they've loved it and managed extraordinarily well.
"It has been very sobering for the students to see the difficulties some people face when just getting a meal, finding somewhere to sleep or having a shower are big challenges.
"The whole issue of homelessness and going into a homeless person's drop-in centre was confronting at first, but to find that they're actually incredibly resourceful, decent and hopeful people is a very positive lesson in humanity and the social environment in which the law works."
The clinic started at the beginning of this year with students how having about 20 cases on the books.
"The students take responsibility for the cases and run the clinic themselves while we stay in the background providing supervision and support - this has been very empowering for them," Dr Castles said.
"Some of the matters the students have been dealing with include trying to serve divorce proceedings, bankruptcy, family law, freedom of information and trying to change bail conditions - which can be an issue when a person has no fixed address, as can keeping track of clients."
When clients require complex legal advice or representation, students not only make referrals but also ensure clients are able to attend the corresponding services.
"One man missed an appointment through something as simple as not having a pencil to write it down because his bag was stolen in the parklands."
The pilot program will continue next semester and it is hoped it can be extended further and clinics started in other parts of the city.
The homeless persons legal advice service is supported by the Law Society, Law Foundation and the University of Adelaide.
Story by Lisa Toole