October 27, 2017

Lawyers aiding youth experiencing homelessness convene at Covenant House Washington

On Oct. 27, the ABA Homeless Youth Legal Network Pro Bono Initiative convened an interdisciplinary group of lawyers, advocates and providers at Covenant House Washington in Washington, D.C., to discuss the critical legal needs of youth experiencing homelessness and to develop new strategies for expanded services.

Lawyers, advocates and providers met at Covenant House Washington to discuss the critical legal needs of youth experiencing homelessness and to develop new strategies for expanded services.

The goal of HYLN Pro Bono, a signature initiative of ABA President Hilarie Bass, is to match lawyers and law firms with shelters, drop-in centers and other homeless youth providers.

The two-hour convening began with a tour of Covenant House from its CEO, Madye Henson. She highlighted the facilities where her staff of 70 provides robust wraparound supportive services for youth ages 12-24 experiencing homelessness, including immediate assistance for basic needs, case management, GED assessment and education, workforce readiness training and career placement. 

Last year, Covenant House Washington served 62,000 meals, provided safe housing to 256 youth (and their children) and sent 31 of them to college.

After the tour, Amy Horton-Newell, director of the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, explained how in setting up HYLN her group started mapping programs for homeless youth across the country. They found 35 programs in 20 states, so they are focusing their efforts on trying to start programs in states that don’t currently have any, to grow the programs that do exist (including 12 model programs), to get seed money to fund new programs and to train lawyers in how to do pro bono work for this population.

In a discussion also facilitated by Linda Britton, director of the ABA Commission on Youth at Risk, the more than 25 attendees representing 14 organizations listed the most common legal needs that youth experiencing homelessness have:

  • Expungement,
  • Child support,
  • Identification,
  • Probate,
  • Immigration,
  • Disability,
  • Housing,
  • Benefits,
  • Education,
  • Open warrants and
  • Identity theft.

While sharing information about how the different organizations work, Dea C. Lott, staff attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said her group has a partnership with Hogan Lovells, who provides pro bono assistance during “hypothermia season.” In addition, her group holds trainings four times a year for their 300 volunteer lawyers.

Other stakeholders represented were the Children’s Law Center, Legal Aid Society of Washington, D.C., So Others Might Eat, Catholic Charities, the Community Housing Development Corporation, D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, National Law Center for Homelessness & Poverty, National Network for Youth and the Family & Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among other groups.

Among the issues that came up as gaps in treatment were mental health issues and adequate housing for LGBTQ minors. Horton-Newell recommended that the groups cultivate relationships and synergies with hospitals, as they have medical respite programs and a similar desire to support efforts to meet community mental health needs.

Horton-Newell asked the groups to “give the ABA a to-do list to support your efforts.”

First up among the next steps will be to compile and distribute:

  • a referral list of legal volunteers, so everyone has the latest and most complete list;

  • a list of resources provided by the D.C. Department of Human Services, so everyone is aware of the growing range of services available to homeless youth;

  • a strategic plan put out by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness on ending homelessness in the District by 2020.

Ways lawyers can participate in HYLN Pro Bono

  • Direct representation of individual youth with urgent legal needs such as questions about criminal cases, denial of public benefits, school explusion, etc.

  • Live legal clinics to represent groups of youth who all have similar legal needs, including obtaining identification documents, applications for college funding, expungement of records, immigration status, consumer issues, etc.

  • Live legal education or “Know Your Rights” presentations to teach youth about important issues such as rights in foster care, rights as employees/job applicants, options for federal funding for college, etc.

If you are interested in participating in this project or would like to learn more about it, please email