NEWS // February 18, 2021

Legal Aid Society Helps Client Successfully Navigate a Difficult System

Greg Knoll, CEO/Executive Director/Chief Counsel, Legal Aid Society of San Diego

Sean is a poet and musician. He has overcome homelessness, drug abuse, food insecurity, and behavioral health challenges. Sean had a troubled childhood, moving from state to state, did not know his biological parents, and could not remember his foster parents due to memory problems resulting from trauma.

Legal Aid Society of San Diego received a referral to assist Sean, a former client of community partner, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). Gretchen, a Case Manager, was assigned to Sean’s case. As she got to know Sean, she discovered that he had no form of identification and had tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain an ID for years. Without an ID, Sean could not apply for a job, drive a car, board a plane, get into 21+ venues to read his poetry, or have a bank account.

Gretchen learned that he never had been able to obtain an ID because he never had a birth certificate. She successfully advocated for Sean in probate court, and the Judge issued a sealed/stamped Fact of Birth Certificate stating that Sean was born in Florida. Gretchen knew Sean would need a lawyer to help him with the next steps and connected Sean with Curtis, a volunteer attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono Program.  

Curtis represented Sean and worked with the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics to get Sean's Delayed Birth Certificate. The only documentation Curtis had available was a report card from a Massachusetts elementary school that Sean had attended. Through his efforts, Curtis helped Sean successfully obtain an ID for the first time.

“Curtis was amazing and made a massive difference in Sean’s life!” exclaimed Gretchen, who was happy to be part of the team that helped Sean obtain an ID.

Staff, community partners, and volunteers like Curtis and Gretchen work together to provide a holistic approach to improving clients' lives.

After 20 plus years, Sean is happy to report, 

“I can finally open a bank account. I can get a better job. I finally exist in society.” 

The system is often too complex for people to navigate alone, so the Legal Aid Society of San Diego improves clients' lives by providing assistance to get them to a more stable place. Sean can’t wait to read his poetry once the open mic venues open up again. 

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