August 2, 2014
A Client’s Story as told by Staff Attorney, Stephanie Lummus:
Walking into court one morning to offer services to homeless individuals, I noticed a man that looked as if he might be living on the street. He had several layers of clothes on and he smelled of burned wood—so much so that it permeated the air around him. I introduced myself, told him about Arch City Defenders, and asked if he needed help with his misdemeanor charge. We talked for awhile about how he slept on the streets or down by the riverfront—and how he burned trash and scrap wood at night to keep from freezing. The temperatures in January were below freezing and I was worried for his safety. I asked him to meet me at St. Patricks Center the next Monday so that we could try and get him services. His name was Melvin Bain.
I entered my appearance on Melvin’s case, and met him three days later at St. Patrick’s Center. He had shown up thirty minutes early to make sure he did not miss his appointment. At the center, he revealed that he had been a veteran in the United States Navy. I immediately had found a kindred spirit. I had served in the United States Navy as well. We talked about the different ships we had been stationed on and then signed Melvin up for the Shamrock Club—a center for homeless individuals to receive counseling, get showers, and do laundry.
When we returned to the office, I immediately requested Melvin’s DD-214 in order to get him Veteran’s services. He qualified for a veteran’s program that offers housing and employment. I took Melvin to St. Patrick’s Center the first time, but he has found his own way there now and has made every appointment.
Melvin had originally been charged with Trespass in the first degree. When I received the police report I was outraged that he had ever been charged at all. Melvin had went into a business to use the bathroom and get warm. Then he was banned from the premises for loitering. However, Melvin was under the impression that he was only banned because he did not have any form of identification. When he obtained his state ID, he went back to the business and approached a security guard to show them his new ID and to ask whether he was allowed on the premises. The security guard immediately arrested him for Trespass. Melvin was charged with a crime for trying to do the right thing—to verify whether he was allowed on the premises. I didn’t even need to prove this fact—it was already in the police report.
Melvin is now engaged with Project Hero at St. Patrick’s Center. He is working on housing and finding a job. Despite being homeless for several years, Melvin has not had a criminal charge for over 26 years…until the day he approached the security guard with his new ID. We have resolved Melvin’s state case and if he can successfully complete probation, his 26 year span without a criminal conviction will remain intact.
Z. Gorley, Communications Director at ArchCity Defenders