JusticeNet SA and Homeless Legal Update

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JusticeNet SA, winners of one of the $100,000 Impact100 SA grants in 2020, recently contacted us to tell us about the work they have been doing, with ‘Homeless Legal’ thanks to our grant.

Homeless Legal has two outreach sites – the Hutt St Centre and Catherine House. These services are provided by Justice Net’s pro bono partner law firms, MinterEllison and Dentons Fisher Jeffries respectively.

In January, they also commenced at a third outreach site at the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT). The purpose of providing legal outreach through SACAT is to support a small number of highly vulnerable tenants who are facing the imminent prospect of homelessness due to eviction proceedings. The SACAT outreach location addresses an identified legal assistance gap as there has been no dedicated tenancy legal service in South Australia for some time.

Zoe Lewis, at JusticeNet is currently staffing the outreach service at SACAT one morning per week. In the coming months, her aim is to identify one or more law firm partners to train to take over the day-to-day service delivery. There have already been some promising discussions with lawyers from one potential law firm. JusticeNet SA has also recently agreed with SACAT on measures to make this trial service more accessible to clients. Client numbers were restricted during the first phase of the trial due to COVID but it is expected that  numbers will  increase over coming months.  

From January to April 2021, Homeless Legal assisted 34 new clients and many existing clients with ongoing issues. Assistance was given in many forms and in relation to many different areas of law. Some examples include:

  • Conducting a SACAT hearing for a client in relation to a dispute with Housing SA;
  • Drafting a Minor Civil Claim for a pensioner who seeks to recover money owed to him;
  • Referring a vulnerable client to a service which may be able to provide her with lawyer-assisted mediation with her ex-husband to secure her property settlement entitlement;
  • Drafting a guilty plea letter for a client with minor criminal charges who was not eligible for legal aid representation;
  • Discussing a client’s complex situation and providing advice and referrals in relation to his visa query, difficulty in obtaining social security payments and confusion about lodging insurance claim paperwork;
  • Assisting a tenant to prepare a written statement and some supporting materials so that he avoided eviction.

Here are three client stories that provide more insight into the value of the service for their vulnerable and marginalised clients (*Names changed to protect privacy).

Fatima’s story

Fatima* came to Australia on a partner visa but soon after was forced to flee the relationship due to family violence. With no reliable income she was forced to seek emergency accommodation. Fatima was highly distressed when she presented to Homeless Legal, uncertain as to whether her visa was still valid. She had attempted to contact the relevant Department to confirm this but, due to COVID-19 office closures, she had been unsuccessful. Homeless Legal assisted her to confirm that she still had a valid visa. This significantly reduced her stress levels and allowed her to dedicate her attention to her studies which she hopes will allow her to contribute to Australian society in the coming months and years.

Sam’s story

Sam* presented to Homeless Legal at a tipping point in his life. He was facing criminal charges while sleeping rough and battling alcohol abuse. Alcohol was a factor in his offending and his anxiety about the criminal charges further fueled the alcohol consumption. He was stuck in a vicious cycle. Homeless Legal was able to help Sam to understand his situation and options. Because he was ineligible for legal aid, our lawyers provided Sam with assistance and supported him towards finalising his matters. During this period, Sam felt able to enter a detox facility knowing that he was addressing his legal issues and had someone to support him with his next steps.

David’s story

David* has lived alone in a Housing SA property for over 20 years. He has been a model tenant, having had no significant issues relating to his rent or care of the premises. Sadly, David experienced significant abuse as a child which has led to serious mental health issues. Among other things, due to his PTSD and extreme trust issues David experiences mental trauma if anyone but the most trusted people enter his home. Previous home inspections have led to self-harm, hospitalisation and weeks of anguish. For many years, Housing SA took a compassionate approach and only inspected the premises on very rare occasions. More recently, Housing SA has demanded regular inspections which threaten to cause David significant mental injury and lead to homelessness. Homeless Legal, with the support of a pro bono barrister, has helped David seek an application in the SACAT to prevent, or at least restrict, the frequency of in-person Housing SA inspections of his home. The matter is ongoing but is expected to be finalised by early 2021. 

The support from Impact100 has allowed JusticeNet to employ Zoe full-time. She has delivered an induction training session to volunteer lawyers from MinterEllison, with delivery to Dentons and others to follow. Over the course of 2021, Zoe will work to open more outreach locations. Discussion is continuing with several organisations, including SYC, Anglicare and others. JusticeNetSA is aiming to open six outreach sites by the end of 2021. Despite plans having been temporarily affected by the announcement of recent changes to the funding of homelessness services in Adelaide, JusticeNet SA is hoping to recommence discussions soon and open their fourth site.  For further information, please contact Tim Graham at JusticeNet SA on tgraham@justicenet.org.au