2016 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Heather Abraham

Heather Abraham

Name of Host Organization: Legal Services of Northern Michigan
City, State: Traverse City, Michigan
Issue area: Housing/Homelessness
Sponsors: Equal Justice Works - Text to Give

The Project

Offer a fresh start to overcoming rural poverty in northern Michigan by founding a Street Outreach Court adapted to resolve common contributors to rural homelessness, such as bench warrants and fines.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Lack of shelter is the ultimate poverty. In Traverse City, northwest Michigan’s gentrifying job center and a popular Midwest tourist destination on Lake Michigan, unprecedented housing demand is pushing low-income renters to remote, dilapidated housing. Driving thousands of extra miles and paying $16,076 on transportation annually to work at low-wage service jobs, displaced renters spend 73% of their income on housing and transportation. Traveling greater distances, they are uniquely susceptible to accumulating fines and bench warrants correlated with rural poverty, such as driving without insurance. In their constrained budgets, even a traffic ticket makes the difference between paying rent and eviction. With virtually no vacancy in the region, eviction is tantamount to homelessness. Homeless persons confront a myriad of additional fines they cannot pay for offenses like “camping” in public. To disrupt the cycle of rural homelessness, we must recognize that cumulative fines and warrants are needless barriers to housing and offer alternative, nonmonetary means to eliminate them.
The Right Person For This Project: 
Heather is the right person for the project because:
• She has a deep, personal connection to rural homelessness through her brother’s housing and mental health struggle
• After working with homeless adults in Washington, DC, she went to law school for the very purpose of becoming an effective homeless-rights advocate
• During law school, she obtained a master of public policy degree in housing and community development
• She has experience advocating for low-income clients and housing policy reform at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan
• She has laid groundwork for this project’s success by engaging in scores of conversations with fellow stakeholders

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