The William Booth Legal Aid Clinic (WBLAC)—the only free Salvation Army-run legal aid clinic in the world—has just celebrated 25 years since opening its doors at the Detroit, Mich., Harbor Light Center and is serving more people than ever.
It began with the vision of one attorney and his wife, Robert and Ellen Dickman, who wanted to provide free legal aid to the indigent population in 1994. At first, the clinic assisted only clients from the Harbor Light and other local corps, handling about 140 cases per year.
“Robert was a visionary,” said attorney Amy Roemer, WBLAC’s current director. “The initial goal of the clinic was to help individuals going through treatment get their legal issues resolved so that legal problems wouldn’t trigger a relapse.”
Today under Amy’s strong leadership, WBLAC continues to help clients living below the poverty line from its offices in Detroit and Pontiac, Mich., where a second clinic was opened in 2008.
Legal problems range from landlord-tenant disputes and consumer advocacy to family law matters such as domestic violence, child abuse and neglect and child custody issues.
From its two locations, WBLAC’s small staff of attorneys and student interns help more than 1,800 individuals, families and U.S. military veterans settle legal matters annually, adding up to over 20,000 cases resolved in 25 years!
In addition to handling their own large caseloads, WBLAC attorneys participate in outreach efforts in collaboration with many other entities, including the Wayne and Oakland County court systems, The United States Probation Office, Veterans Hospital, Head Start, the Detroit Public Library and many others.
They also teach a family law clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and offer practical experience opportunities such as internships and work-study programs to its students and students from other Detroit-area law schools. Since opening in 1994, WBLAC has mentored more than 200 students who have volunteered over 35,000 hours to working on cases for indigent clients.
“Ultimately we would love to see our services expand,” said Rebekah White, assistant WBLAC director, “and to have other territories mirror our program to help the impoverished in their areas [with legal concerns].”
As well as their legal services, the WBLAC attorneys, staff and volunteers take a holistic approach to helping their clients by referring them to other Salvation Army services for food, clothing or emergency assistance including corps, the Detroit Harbor Light Center, homeless shelters, Transitional Housing Program for Homeless Veterans and adult rehabilitation centers in the area.
WBLAC is funded by private contributions from law firms, foundations, corporations and individual donors as well as their annual Walk for Justice fundraiser at the Detroit Zoo, which takes place each spring and has garnered donations totaling more than $300,000 since the inaugural event in 2013.