Pro bono law students and lawyers open Homeless ID Clinic in the Downtown Eastside


For the average person, losing ID is a hassle. For Vancouver’s most marginalized, it is devastating.

On Monday, October 2nd, 2017 pro bono law students from the Peter A. Allard School of Law and lawyers from Borden Ladner Gervais LLP are opening a weekly ID Clinic at the Powell Street Getaway with the support of Pro Bono Students Canada, the Lookout Society, and the Access Pro Bono Society of BC.

“Without ID, folks can’t exercise their basic human rights. No ID often means no medical care, housing, legal help, or detox access,” explained Carly Stanhope, a third-year law student and project co-lead with Pro Bono Students Canada.

For homeless and marginally housed individuals, obtaining and retaining ID is a persistent barrier. When applying for ID, folks often have difficulty providing supporting documents or a mailing address. People with limited literacy or uncorrected vision problems may be unable to complete forms, and those surviving on dismal welfare rates likely cannot afford application fees or transportation to an ICBC office for photos.

When folks obtain ID, it is equally difficult to keep. Frequently, people who live on the streets have their belongings stolen while they are sleeping or accessing services. ID’s are thrown away with people’s belongings when they camp in public spaces. When people are released from jail, it may be without the wallet they entered with.

At the new ID Clinic, law students and lawyers will help individuals overcome these barriers. Each week, 4 law students and 2 lawyers will sit down with clients to complete applications. The Getaway will serve as a mailing address, and application fees as well as transportation to relevant offices will be covered. To help people keep their ID, the Getaway will have secure on-site document storage that clients can access at any time.

Generous community donors including VanCity Community Foundation and the Law Foundation of BC have covered application fees and transit costs this year; however, ultimately, the students aim to effect systemic change in the form of fee waivers for low-income individuals.

The students’ vision for the Clinic is about more than just ID, though; it’s about reminding people that they matter. “Accessing lawyers can be almost impossible for people living in poverty. This clinic aims to respond to what we’ve been told is the most basic access to justice issue. For legal professionals, it’s an opportunity to provide much needed legal services to people where they are at,” said Melanie Begalka, also in her third year of law school, and co-leading the project.

Pro bono work is considered a professional obligation in the legal world, but for those involved with the ID Clinic, it is clearly a personal one, too. With compassion and hard work, the law students and lawyers hope to help today, and change tomorrow.