By Sierra Blanchard-Hodge
Timothy Farrell, volunteer writer for the DC newspaper Street Sense, is not your average urban columnist. His youthful exploits may appear to be … unusual—he recalls, for example, being hustled into the back of a military truck by army personnel during an evacuation in Rhodesia. But despite these experiences, Tim had a fairly privileged upbringing, and he now seeks to use his education and legal expertise to give back to the community.
Before moving to the District, Tim practiced law in Oregon, representing people facing foreclosure. As part of a team of foreclosure attorneys, he fought to revise an Oregon law that had allowed banks to perform immediate, non-judicial foreclosures on clients’ homes. Tim and his team successfully lobbied for mandatory mediation sessions between banks, clients, and state-appointed mediators before non-judicial foreclosures could take place.
Although this success led to a near-total elimination of non-judicial foreclosures, it also left many foreclosure lawyers—Tim included—without clients. Since he had previously represented clients from Japan, Korea, China, and the Western Pacific while practicing law on the island of Guam, Tim switched gears and started making use of his degree in maritime law. But upon arriving in Washington, DC in 2015, Tim discovered that DC was not “paved in gold”; there were few legal opportunities in his area of expertise. So Tim spent most of his first months in DC living in a hostel, facing an ongoing struggle to find a stable job and affordable housing.
Then, Tim happened upon Street Sense, a District newspaper that offers homeless people a chance to write columns and sell newspapers in order to make money. Street Sense, as it turns out, was searching for a volunteer writer with a legal background, and Tim took advantage of the opportunity. As a volunteer columnist for Street Sense, Tim tells readers about legal resources available to the DC community, including those who can’t afford legal services. In his columns, he highlights resources that serve needs he has identified in the community or specific situations that can be handled by a larger legal practice. The editor of Street Sense “liked me so much because just like many of the vendors, I was at risk of being homeless,” Tim says.
Tim appreciates Street Sense not only for the opportunities they have provided to him, but also for the newspaper’s presence in the community. Street Sense gives publication priority to the homeless people on staff; if a homeless person’s article is published, she receives newspapers to sell at no cost, allowing her to make more money. Writers get the chance to be published, while vendors have the opportunity to earn a stable income and interact with residents in their communities. As Tim explains, “access to justice is a problem, but it doesn’t have to be if people know what resources are available.”
We applaud people like Timothy Farrell and publications like Street Sense for helping to bridge the justice gap and providing aid and knowledge to those who need it most.
Sierra Blanchard-Hodge (@sblanchardhodge) is a junior at Xavier University of Louisiana, where she studies political science and business administration, and a former intern at Washington Council of Lawyers.