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STREET DEMOCRACY

LAWYERS working with THE POOR AND THE IGNORED TO END POVERTY AND IMPLEMENT THE DEMANDS OF JUSTICE

OUR VALUES

As we practice sevA (Selfless service), we must remind ourselves that the public interest comes before ours, that the truth is our guide, that Empowered Clients  power social movements, that We Lead by Following, that we act transparently and with integrity, and that what we can do we must do.

“Life isn’t worth living, unless it is lived for someone else.” Albert Einstein

“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” Malcolm X

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” Cesar Chavez

“There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” Gandhi

“My mother always told me,'hide your face-people are looking at you'. I would reply, 'It does not matter; I am also looking at them.” Malala Yousafzai

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” MLK

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"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

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Our Work


"A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor... cannot afford adequate legal assistance, and should therefore devote professional time and civic influence in their behalf."  - Preamble, MRPC

PROGRAMS::The everyday WORK THAT KEEPS US GROUNDED

  • STREET OUTREACH COURT DETROIT
    STREET OUTREACH COURT DETROIT
    a specialty court that opens the doors of justice to the homeless

    Street Democracy, with our organizing partner Detroit Action Commonwealth, led the effort to establish a specialty court that credits the efforts of the homeless to reintegrate into society against their outstanding misdemeanor and ordinance violations.  Since the summer of 2012, we have helped more than 243 people put their criminal pasts behind them.  The program's combination of social and legal services with the court's legal relief has resulted in extremely low recidivism rates and high long-term housing stability rates for SOCD graduates.  SOCD partner Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Brother Jerry Smith, speaking about SOCD, said, "In our 80 plus years of serving the poor and hungry in Detroit, this court program is one of the most effective upliftment tools we have ever seen.”

  • CIV+CRIM FOR HOMELESS VETS
    CIV+CRIM FOR HOMELESS VETS
    legal services, rapidly-deployed to get vets housed quick

    Street Democracy supplements social services provided by Volunteers of America Michigan with comprehensive criminal and civil legal services to help homeless veterans to obtain and maintain permanent housing.

  • The Court Watch
    the court watch
    OBSERVATIONS AND REPORTING TO IMPROVE THE ADMINISTRATION OF Justice

    Over 30 years ago, the United States Supreme Court in Bearden v. Georgia declared pay-or-stay sentencing unconstitutional. For the last 4+ years, we have been working to get courts to observe this principle as we helped the homeless truly put their legal pasts behind them.  Judges were for the most part excellent to our clients, but we saw some of those same judges ignore the same constitutional protections for other defendants.  Although a new court rule was adopted in May 2016 addressing a defendant's inability to pay, we believe some courts are continuing to circumvent the Constitution.

  • The pro bono manual
    the pro bono manual
    AN OPEN SOURCE TRAINING MANUAL + GUIDANCE FOR PRO BONO ATTORNEYS

    According to the ABA, most attorneys give up on pro bono work because they have to spend too many hours learning the intricacies of practice in an area of law outside their and their colleagues' expertise.  But what if we, in collaboration with Michigan State University College of Law, Lakeshore Legal Aid, and Bodman PLC, took an excellent resource manual combined it with practice tips and location-based resources and then backed it up with access to legal aid attorneys ready to guide them through the representation?  Could we exponentially increase the impact of pro bono lawyering?

  • seva under pressure
    seva under pressure
    A promise to our friends & allies, OLD & SO TO BE

    We are all under pressure.  Our natural inclination is to put our head down and work on our own problems, in our own silos. But purposefully making ourselves blind to their struggles won't help us with ours.  Struggling together is how we as humans connect, how we understand, and how we learn to love one another.  And love dares us to care about ourselves by caring for others.  (credit: Bhagwad Gita & Queen)

    So once a month our entire team steps out of our office to help an ally in whatever way we can with whatever they need.  And as with all service, we also benefit, from the listening, the learning, and the realignment with our raison d'etre.

Data. Directed. Disruptive?

Evidence-informed advocacy projects aiming for equity of access to the levers of power.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
  • REHABILITATIVE SENTENCING
    Using the criminal justice system to reinforce prosocial attitudes and behavior

  • HOMELESS COURT CONSULTING
    Technical assistance to courts nationwide seeking to establish a homeless court
ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
  • CLEANING COOP 
    Anchor institution-supported cooperative of returning citizens 

  • REALLY GOOD EMPLOYEES
  • Campaign highlighting financial and other benefits of hiring returning citizens
ACCESS TO HOUSING
  • THE EQUITY-BUILDING LEASE
    Lease incentivizing long-term tenancy to benefit of both landlord and tenant

  • STREET SEED
    White paper on using tax credits to spur community-owned housing developments
PROCESS REFORM
  • EVICTION SUMMONS REFORM
    Proposal to modify MI Court Rules to require tenants rights info with Summons

  • PROPERTY TAX POVERTY EXEMPTION
    Advocacy of exemption application process reform to improve awareness and access
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Truth to power

Our clients Mecca, Dennis, and Lesia, along with Patti Carey, a past team member, testified before the Michigan Supreme Court to advocate for court rules changes that would hopefully end pay-or-stay sentencing. and WHEN Mecca, Dennis, and Lesia spoke their truth, The justices leaned in.

HELP IF YOU CAN, HOWEVER YOU CAN

VOLUNTEERDONATE
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OUR STORY & OUR TEAM

We started Street Democracy, a 501c3, to bring legal services to the homeless where they are, be that a picnic table in a park or St. Leo's basement soup kitchen.

We soon realized that our clients' legal issues were not the only bars jailing them in poverty and that until we addressed the causes of their condition, we were merely performing legal triage. We needed to work better, smarter.

So now we partner with social service agencies to provide coordinated human and legal services to maximize the efficacy of our efforts and make their progress stick. We combine that experience with the our clients' and partners' voices to identify and implement solutions to systems and practices that perpetuate poverty and injustice.

We work to create that a world where everyone's voice is heard and no one is left behind.

  • charles
  • kate
  • jj
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CHARLES DAVID HOBBS
 Director of Civil Services
If he's not at work, Charles can be found representing K-12 kids at expulsion hearing or his board.
 
KATE MORTENSEN
 Director of Criminal Services
Kate runs SOCD and warrant walk-in program, and generally is the most serious of our crew.

JAYESH PATEL 
President & Board Member
Jayesh directs the advocacy projects, manages the team, and gets constant ridicule from his kids.

MOLLY SCHMIDT-NOWARA 
Secretary & Board Member
Molly's a partner at Garcia Ives Nowara and co-directs the UNM School of Law's Innocence Project.

JITEN GHELANI 
Treasurer & Board Member
Jiten is working in India to bring low-cost refrigeration technology to rural India's dairy industry.

STREET DEMOCRACY

440 Burroughs St #634
Detroit, MI 48202

(313) 355-4460 tel
(313) 347-9763 fax
info@streetdemocracy.org

Public Documents