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Breaking down barriers of poverty and homelessness

Thousands of people gathered outside the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday, waiting hours just for a chance to come inside.

New opportunities and services awaited them that they might not have had the chance to access in other circumstances. A lot of these opportunities and services we would take for granted, such as having a state-issued ID card, getting health and dental care, and being able to afford decent, safe housing.

Through the third annual Project Homeless Connect, people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore were connected with services, including legal service providers such as the Legal Aid Bureau, Homeless Persons Representation Project and my employer, the Maryland Disability Law Center.

It was a great outreach opportunity to advise people of their rights and let them know attorneys are available in a variety of circumstances to address legal needs.

While I am proud of the work accomplished by the Maryland Disability Law Center and other Baltimore pro bono legal services at Project Homeless Connect, I was also touched to see other folks bring their talents to clients of Project Homeless Connect. Sometimes I forget that things like homelessness and poverty can be barriers to people connecting.

In particular, I enjoyed watching the barbers and stylists stationed across from the legal services area giving free haircuts and trims to the homeless. Watching another person put in so much care and effort for another person when there was no monetary exchange certainly betrays everything I learned in contracts during my first year of law school.

But there was something so basic, and fundamentally more human, about that transaction than anything I learned in law school. It allowed those barriers of poverty and homelessness to come tumbling down and allowed people to connect as people.

It was good to see that both the hair stylists and the clients got a lot of joy from Project Homeless Connect. But I couldn’t help but notice that stylists outnumbered lawyers by at least three-to-one.

Maybe haircuts were more needed Thursday than legal advice, but based on the number of people free legal service providers must turn away because of limited resources, I know there is a great need for legal representation for low-income people.

So, I am hoping that next year, at the fourth annual Project Homeless Connect, there will be more attorneys and legal providers ready to break down the barriers of poverty and homelessness.