Street Democracy logo

a legal nonprofit working with community to turn systems of oppression into systems of opportunity

Our Why

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr signature

Government institutions exist to deal with society's problems. But most suck at it because they are designed all wrong. They are based on outdated theories of human behavior, use complicated processes borrowed from other fields and times, and aim to handle problems, not solve them. It’s then no surprise that those systems function to worsen poverty and oppression.

But what if instead we gave people the agency and option to choose a pathway towards success? What if we connected people to in-community supports so that they have enough resources to focus on their future? What if we taught people the skills they need to get out and stay out? What if we made the process so simple that most could easily navigate themselves to a beneficial outcome? And what if we then rewrote our laws to make that how it just always worked?

Because if we did all that, then those systems would function in a way that actually creates justice.

This is our formula for justice:

This is why we exist.

Our Work

As community-based lawyers, we play whatever role the community needs us to. That work typically falls into three broad categories: programs, advocacy, and campaigns.


our frontlines work removing the civil and criminal legal barriers that prevent people experiencing homelessness from obtaining and maintaining stable housing in tight coordination with our partner social service organizations

Street Outreach Court Detroit

In 2011, Street Democracy led an effort to establish Street Outreach Court Detroit (“SOCD”), a specialty court at 36th District Court that recognizes the efforts of homeless folks to address the root causes of their homelessness as "payment" for certain civil infractions and misdemeanors. Since its opening in 2012, we, as SOCD's defense counsel, have been able to help over 600 people graduate from the program. learn more

Veterans Law Project

In 2016, Street Democracy launched a partnership with Volunteers of America Michigan as their legal supportive services partner for their homeless veteran clients. Our holistic legal services cover the full spectrum of poverty law, from general civil to housing to criminal justice, anything that can help them get and stay housed. learn more


our issue-specific reform work to remedy parts of systems that arise during our direct representation of homeless clients or that are brought to our attention by our community partners

Property Tax Justice

Our collaborative efforts to end the unconstitutional overassessment of lower-value homes in Detroit and nationwide, to obtain reparations for those who unfairly lost their homes, and to provide assistance to those still currently being over-assessed. coalition homepage

Court Watch

Our campaign to change the way the courts "talk" to the public so that people know their rights, know how to exercise them, and know how to quickly get to where they need to go. learn more


our big, multi-year systems-imagination work to create and institutionalize the systems that fulfill the demands of justice, through co-design with community; education and outreach; and development of toolkits, technology, and other actionable resources that can accelerate adoption

Functional Sentencing

Our campaign to deflect and divert people from the criminal justice system towards the in-community services that address the root causes of their behavior because—based on our experience serving the homeless and backed by the latest research—this achieves better public safety outcomes than fines, supervision, and jail. learn more

ReThink Education

Our campaignin coordination with the 482Forward, the ACLU of Michigan, the Student Advocacy Center, and countless other community partnersto make sure that all kids are able to attend a good public school, are not denied an education on account of the race, disability, LGBTQ, or other status, and are given a fair, restorative school discipline process so that they can stay in school. learn more

Our Clients' Voice

We believe it a fundamental duty to share our access attorneys by putting our clients' at the center in our advocacy work. Equally importantly, our experience has shown that nothing is as effective as when our clients telling their own truth to power. Because we so strongly hold this at heart, we craft our advocacy and campaigns to feature their stories, not just include them.

Ability to Pay Court Rule
Watch our clients Dennis, Lesia, and Mecca testify with our former colleague (now ALJ Judge) Patti before the Michigan Supreme Court to advocate for a new court rule to end pay-or-stay sentencing.

Play icon, link to youtube video
Street Democracy team with clients in front of Michigan Supreme Court bench

Our Commitment to Community

Because we believe partnership with community extends beyond the intersection of our respective work, we commit to step outside of our "mission" to help our community partners achieve theirs. But this small commitment is actually essential as it allows us to listen, learn, and realign with our own mission, being truly community-driven advocates.

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