by Rebecca Byrne

Homeless and low-income people face a unique set of challenges in the legal realm. Simple actions such as sitting on curbs seem innocuous coming from other populations, yet somehow become problematic when homeless and low-income people need to sit down.
While this is a confusing discrepancy, it is the reality of the legal climate in Berkeley. Unfortunately, homeless and low-income individuals can face legal problems simply from engaging in the aforementioned activity, namely sitting on a curb. In addition to these kinds of stressful occurrences, legal problems can arise with public benefits as well. These as well as countless other problems contribute to the unique legal troubles of the homeless and low-income population.
However, there are resources provided by organizations which work with the homeless population to aid them in combating these problems. These resources are readily available and several organizations in the East Bay are eager to help, but lots of times people are unaware of them. My aim with this article is to draw attention to the organizations, as well as highlight the issues that they generally deal with.
While there are far more resources than the following, I have provided information about these services because I find these ones to be particularly helpful for the clients we serve in the Suitcase Clinic. It is likely that they provide more services than I will mention; however, we tend to refer clients to each organization when they are having a particular problem.
So, while they might be great at providing other types of services, I am going to include the specific types of services we continuously refer clients to seek from them because previous clients have had helpful experiences with them.

East Bay Community Law Center

The East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) is a very important resource that provides a plethora of different legal services. The three we most often refer clients to at EBCLC are the general legal clinic, the debt collection defense clinic, and the clean slate clinic.
The general legal clinic and the debt collection clinic are both held at the EBCLC’s Shattuck location (3130 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley). As quoted from their website, the general clinic deals with legal problems involving “homelessness, consumer law, DMV problems, small claims cases, and tort defense.”
The debt collection clinic provides legal assistance and information about problems involving credit cards and debt.
EBCLC’s clean slate program specifically helps individuals who are facing legal issues and barriers because of past incarceration and, as a result, are having problems re-entering society. This clinic is located at their other location (2921 Adeline Street). It is important to note that East Bay Community Law Center can only provide assistance to low-income citizens of Alameda County.

Homeless Action Center

The Homeless Action Center (HAC) is another amazing resource in the East Bay. We tend to send clients there specifically when they are having problems with public benefits. HAC provides legal assistance to persons who receive SSI, SSDI, GA General Assistance, CalWorks, Medi-Cal, Food Stamps, etc.

The Suitcase Clinic began in 1989 when a group of UC students gave medical aid out of suitcases at the Berkeley Flea Market to homeless individuals.
The Suitcase Clinic began in 1989 when a group of UC students gave medical aid out of suitcases at the Berkeley Flea Market to homeless individuals.

Clients who have seen the staff at HAC have most often come back with their public benefits problems resolved. Like EBCLC, HAC can only take clients who are citizens of Alameda County.
HAC has an office in Berkeley as well as one in Oakland. Their Berkeley office is located at 3126 Shattuck Avenue and their phone number is (510) 540-0878. The Oakland office of HAC is located at 1432 Franklin Street and their phone number is (510) 836-3260, ext. 301.

People with Disability Foundation

The People with Disability Foundation is an additional excellent resource for those having problems with SSI/SSDI. They are particularly helpful with issues of underpayment and overpayment. In addition, they can help with the appeals process if you have been denied for one of these benefits programs. They have two phone numbers: (510) 522-7933 (East Bay) and (415) 931-3070 (San Francisco).

Suitcase Clinic

There are many organizations which specialize in helping homeless and low-income persons with different legal problems. So it can be very helpful to consult with Suitcase Clinic’s legal sector to find the resource which can be most helpful.
We are available at the General Clinic which is held on Tuesday nights at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley (2407 Dana Street, Berkeley).
While we cannot provide legal advice because we are not attorneys, we’re well versed in many of the resources available in the Bay Area, and particularly in the East Bay, and with this information, we aim to provide helpful legal resources to any clients that come to see us. So, if you’re having legal problems, a good place to start is to consult with the legal desk and get some helpful resources.