About two weeks ago was the memorial service for one of my former clients, Ms. Shirley Riley. I met Ms. Riley through some pro bono work I was doing for her in March 2009 for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. At that time I was nearly a year into doing pro bono work for the Clinic; but it was through Ms. Riley’s set of circumstances that I became intimate with the functions of the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) and its failings with regard to serving those with disabilities in the DC shelter system. It was also through Ms. Riley’s situation that I became even more intimate with the good pro bono legal work can do for individuals and society-at-large.
Ms. Riley had impairments that required she have an accessible room and a location with no communal setting. She was placed at one of the city’s main shelters, DC General, which provided neither of these accommodations at the time. Taking the typical course of action, I began using the administrative process to have Ms. Riley moved to a better environment. Unfortunately, my efforts were not initially being responded to by DHS. I even had to go so far as to testify before DHS on Ms. Riley’s behalf to bring its shortcomings to the attention of DHS leadership. Ms. Riley was eventually moved from the shelter to an apartment-style residence and provided a more accommodating environment. In the end, litigation was initiated by Ms. Riley and my colleague at the Legal Clinic, Amber Harding.