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Pro bono: Keeping women housed

Every Issue

Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.77

A new initiative of Justice Connect Homeless Law is supporting women who are often fleeing family violence.

The Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project (WHPP), an initiative of Justice Connect Homeless Law, aims to keep women and children in housing through a combination of legal representation and social work support. The project is funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and relies on the support of partner law firm Herbert Smith Freehills and the City of Melbourne.

The weekly outreach clinic is hosted at a library that is comfortable and accessible for women and their children and a children’s librarian can care for children while their mothers speak with the lawyers and the social worker.

Women facing homelessness receive ongoing legal assistance from pro bono lawyers in relation to their tenancy legal issue (for example, eviction notices for falling behind in rent or alleged breaches of tenancy obligations), which includes advice, negotiation with the landlord and representation at VCAT. The social worker provides intensive support for up to three months with a focus on transitioning clients to long-term support services (for example, health services, financial counselling, family violence counselling, housing support, education and employment).

The WHPP is an integrated model of providing legal services that focuses on preventing homelessness through addressing both legal and non-legal issues. It is a response to clear evidence identifying that homelessness is often interlinked with other forms of disadvantage (for example, financial stress, mental illness, family violence), and creates increased vulnerability to multiple legal issues.1

Since the first WHPP clinic in April 2014, 47 women with a total of 69 children in their care have been provided with legal representation and social work support. Of these 47 women, 89 per cent reported a history of family violence, with 56 per cent having experienced family violence in the past five years.

Figures from the first six months of operation showed that 83 per cent of WHPP clients had been able to maintain safe and secure housing as a result of the WHPP. Only five WHPP clients were unable to sustain their tenancies in that period, and in four of those cases additional time was obtained to minimise the crisis of eviction.

The WHPP operates in the Victorian context where according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures there are approximately 22,773 people experiencing homelessness. Almost half of Victorians experiencing homelessness are women and one-sixth are children under 12. Family violence is the most common cause of homelessness in Victoria. There are 34,618 people on the waiting list for public housing in Victoria and only 0.04-2 per cent of all private rental properties in and around metropolitan Melbourne are affordable for single parents on low incomes, according to an Anglicare Australia report on rental affordability (http://tinyurl.com/qamppce). It is in this context that the WHPP aims to prevent the eviction of women and children into homelessness.

In addition to providing services to individual clients, the WHPP is gathering data and insights about the factors pushing women into homelessness, and will present recommendations for systemic change informed by direct casework.

The work of the WHPP has already received a positive response in the community, with media coverage and selection as a finalist in the 2014 Victorian Health Promotion Foundation Awards for its contribution to improving mental wellbeing. The supervising partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, Michael Pryse, was awarded the 2014 Keith Steele Pro Bono Leadership Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to pro bono through the WHPP.

The WHPP looks forward to continuing its work to prevent homelessness for women and children. To contact Justice Connect Homeless Law call 1800 606 313.


PATRICK WARNER is a lawyer with Justice Connect’s Homeless Law service.

  1. Christine Coumarelos and Julie People, “Home is Where the Heart of Legal Need Is” (Working Paper No. 23, Law and Justice Foundation, April 2013), 2; Christine Coumarelos, Deborah Macourt, Julie People, Hugh M McDonald, Zhigang Wei, Reiny Iriana and Stephanie Ramsey, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Legal Australia-Wide Survey: legal need in Australia (2012).

Looking to help?

To help lawyers and firms become involved in pro bono work – legal services and otherwise – the LIJ profiles a community group and its needs each month. See www.goodcompany.com.au for more skilled volunteering opportunities.

Trust for Nature

Contact: Joanna Cantwell

Email: mail@goodcompany.com.au

Trust for Nature is a not-for-profit organisation that works to protect Victoria’s native plants and wildlife in cooperation with private landowners. Our native plants and wildlife provide us with not only important services, such as clean water and resources, but they are important in and of themselves. As two-thirds of Victoria is privately owned, many of these species and their habitats are not currently getting the necessary protection.

Current needs of group

Legal volunteer – Environmental protection

Trust for Nature has an opportunity for a volunteer to assist its registrations team in the preparation of documentation and correspondence to finalise agreements. Trust for Nature specialises in the development of legal agreements with private land owners to protect native vegetation. The position would suit a law student who is looking for some legal administrative experience. Volunteers can expect to work with the Trust’s solicitor to obtain an understanding of the unique legal agreements and gain broader exposure to the Trust’s environmental protection programs.

Opportunities can be negotiated to accompany staff out in the field to broaden their understanding of land protection issues.

Goodcompany

See www.goodcompany.com.au for more skilled volunteering opportunities. For more information about volunteering in general see www.volunteeringaustralia.org and www.ourcommunity.com.au.

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