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Attorneys seek to help homeless veterans

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The tile floor is clean, and two couches, one white, the other orange, fill the living room. In a small bedroom down the short hallway, a twin bed is covered with a blue blanket. Half a loaf of bread sits on the kitchen table.

This is the home of a hero.

At one time, the resident of this modest dwelling wore a uniform, served her country and, for doing that, was called a hero. She, along with other military personnel, were thanked and praised countless times for protecting this country’s liberties.

Today, she struggles to protect herself from homelessness.

The problem of homeless veterans of the U.S. military is growing and starting to include younger soldiers who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Estimates put the number of homeless veterans between 130,000 and 200,000 on any given night, according to a 2009 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

In Indianapolis, the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation is helping move these individuals from the streets into permanent housing. The personal baggage many veterans carry includes a substance abuse problem or a mental health issue. As these troubles are brought under control, HVAF begins tackling other barriers like job skills, personal financial management, transportation and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The entire effort is not considered successful until the veteran is able to find a permanent place to live.
 

15col-Homeless_Moreau_Bill.jpg Bill Moreau, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, has been a strong advocate for the homeless. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

However, one persistent obstacle to achieving this final goal has been solving legal issues. HVAF clients can have a suspended driver’s license, owe child support or have an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor case which is enough to prevent employment, stability and finding a place to live.

A small ensemble of attorneys who support the HVAF is stepping forward to find a way to provide legal assistance. They have issued a “Request for Good Ideas” and are asking their colleagues in the legal community to suggest a model or method for delivering these services to the veterans.

“We really think in the community there are probably some folks who know the best way to do this,” said Steve Benz, HVAF board chair and associate general counsel at Eli Lilly & Co.

Holistic approach

After he retired from 20 years of service in the U.S. Army, Charles “Chuck” Haenlein was asked to serve on the HVAF board of directors. His first reaction was to wonder “how can veterans be homeless?”

Former military personnel have access to the VA which offers services and benefits that can care for and sustain them. But many of the veterans arriving on HVAF’s doorstep either do not know how to maneuver through the bureaucracy of the VA or have had a bad experience with the government agency.

Attorneys can help with filing VA paperwork, said Trent Sandifur, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and HVAF board member. In some cases, for example, that could then provide a disabled veteran with a $2,000 monthly benefit which could ensure the financial footing needed to stay housed.

Yet, the clients at HVAF have a host of social problems which influence the legal issues, and the effort to remedy the legal entanglement cannot bare fruit until those social concerns are addressed, Sandifur, an Army veteran, said.

Consequently, he and his colleagues envision a holistic approach with the lawyer being part of the treatment team surrounding any particular client. The attorney would get to know the veteran and help clear the path to a permanent home instead of putting out a legal fire and then leaving, Sandifur said.

Every veteran who comes through the foundation has a legal issue to be resolved, Haenlein said. HVAF can give them a place to stay and get them clean and sober but that problem with the law will still be hanging overhead.

The entire story

One recent Thursday morning, a team of volunteers from Lilly were spread around the HVAF facility on North Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis doing a variety of maintenance and cleaning tasks. HVAF staff members, Cindy Thomas, executive vice president, and Ron Shelley, chief operations officer, walked through the new Manchester apartment building that the foundation opened in November 2011.

They recalled one veteran broke down in tears when she saw her apartment. The night before, that veteran had slept under a bridge.

The numbers of veterans coming to HVAF have been rising. In 2009 and 2010, the foundation provided services to 2,121 and 2,081 veterans, respectively, while in 2011 the number rose to 2,259.

Why military personnel become homeless is not an easy question to answer. Certainly, the down economy plays a role, but the military is a highly regimented life and often accompanied by lots of alcohol consumption which can complicate the transition back to civilian life. Also, Thomas said, the veterans may have had a bad childhood before they enlisted, so they were predisposed to the social problems.

According to Thomas, of the 13 women currently in the HVAF program, more than half have experienced sexual trauma in the military and in their childhoods.

The attorneys helping HVAF would not be expected to be social workers but, Haenlein explained, could provide assistance on those legal issues the therapists cannot resolve.

As these veterans are falling from the system, trouble with the law can grow as bills go unpaid and conflicts arise. Then they can fall prey to unscrupulous landlords, car dealers and tax preparation services that pop up every spring, Haenlein said.

Sometimes a situation can be defused by having an attorney who is representing the veteran write a letter or make a phone call. A simple act can calm the tensions by giving the veteran credibility and highlighting that the veteran has someone who will hold the other party accountable.

Under HVAF’s vision, attorneys working with veterans would get to see the whole story. Bill Moreau, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and tireless advocate for the homeless, noted lawyers celebrate victory when they resolve the legal problem. But that is not the end of the story, and success at HVAF is not declared until the client’s homelessness ends.

As for the best way to tackle these legal issues, the team of attorneys has not devised any particular solutions yet and, instead, is hoping other lawyers will fill in the details, Moreau said. Rather than sending in résumés, the group wants to get proposals or outlines of potential structures for providing and sustaining the legal assistance program.

Moreau’s passion for helping the homeless comes from his father, retired Army veteran Donald Moreau, who served as the executive director of HVAF before Haenlein. It also stems from the work he did with former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration to craft a blueprint for ending homelessness in the city within 10 years.

He is hopeful that homelessness among veterans can be eliminated. Helping former members of the military, Moreau said, is a goal that has broad support and has unified political opponents.

“At least in this country, we can actually make good on a promise to vets,” he said.

Making a proposal

The HVAF is now taking proposals for how to provide legal services to veterans. Written responses should be sent electronically to Charles Haenlein, HVAF president and CEO, at CHaenlein@hvaf.org no later than Oct. 19, 2012. Other questions should be directed to Haenlein.

A copy of the “Request for Good Ideas” is available at www.hvaf.org. Click on RFGI in the news section on the home page.•

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  • Homeless Vets
    Thank you for helping from the bottom of my heart. If not for a daughter the veteran that was in Vietnam and Irag would be homeless with no help from VA. The solutions from VA has always been more pills. With him drinking since 1971 they don't seem to mix. He can't quit on his own and no one cares unless you have the big money to go to a center that will care for you as an inpatient and counsel long and hard to get to the root of the problem.Thank you for helping others.

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  1. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  2. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  3. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  4. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  5. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

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