By Mahira Siddiqui • September 16, 2012•Writers in Residence
Teresa Friend is the Director and Managing Attorney at the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP), a Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Since 1993, Teresa has overseen staff, interns and legal and social service volunteers in executing legal and advocacy services on behalf of individuals who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness. Teresa received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and her J.D from UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall).
After clerking for Chief Justice Rose Bird of the California Supreme Court, she entered private practice, where she specialized in civil litigation, representing low-income tenants. She has also acted as a judicial arbitrator for the Alameda and Contra Costa County Superior Courts. Teresa was active for many years in the ACLU, as well as the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, serving on the boards of directors for both organizations.
How does HAP differ from other legal service housing organizations?
There are specific things we do here that no one else does in the city. We are focused on helping people who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, particularly prioritizing people with mental health disabilities and people in immediate crisis situations.
Often times our clients are being evicted as a result of some kind of mental health issue: they are hoarding, yelling at people, threatening people and no one is set up to do this kind of work. It’s a certain kind of practice, a certain kind of approach which involves accommodating our client’s disabilities. It’s also very important that we have a social service component to our work because our clients have so many needs. This separates us from a lot of legal service organizations because we have a social worker on site which makes HAP a more holistic legal service provider.
Under your management, how has HAP evolved looking ‘then’ and ‘now’?
When I first started, HAP used to be a more voluntary based office. However, we found it difficult for our clients who are vulnerable, unstable and hard to track down because many of them don’t have cellphones, to work with a volunteer attorney who wasn’t at the office. As a result, we shifted to a staff based model and I believe this is the most effective way to provide legal services for our clients.
Also, the kind of work we do here has expanded. Since I’ve joined, there has been a lot of freedom to figure out how to make HAP grow the way we felt would meet the needs of our clients. HAP did lots of SSI advocacy and benefits work prior to my coming but not a lot of eviction defense which I pushed to see more of. Over the years, due to a lot of contributions, grants and government contracts, HAP does a fair amount of eviction defense, SSI advocacy and immigration and it has grown into something I’m very proud of.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your line of work being a woman in the law?
Nobody has ever directly told me that I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. However, there are some attorneys who are misogynist jerks who didn’t say things about me but I’ve heard them say vile and obscene things about women I know and it was really horrifying. And those men could have said bad things about a male attorney but I don’t think they would have said them in that sort of obscene manner. Thinking about it now, the times I felt a little uncomfortable have been, in my mind, because I’m a lesbian attorney, not just because I’m a woman.
How have your female mentors shaped your legal experience?
In some ways I feel like I’m the second or third wave of women attorneys. There are women who are older than I am who had a much more difficult time starting their careers-- they were the true ground breakers. My experience being a woman in the law has definitely been helped by the fact that I have had great female bosses all the way through. They were good role models and strong lawyers who I got to watch, emulate, and admire because they had broken some of those barriers.
What are your expectations and goals for HAP ‘now’?
I certainly want to stay in business. Well, actually, let me say that in an ideal world we wouldn’t be in business because there wouldn’t be any homeless people or people at risk of homelessness. Recently, the Bar Association of San Francisco-Volunteer Legal Services Program made a renewed commitment to HAP which is great. Before this we were a little under the radar but they realized how incredibly interesting and wonderful our work is. So, my hope is that we can continue to keep enough resources to continue this line of work. We do the best we can but we have not yet begun to meet the full needs in this city and I’d love to see us be able to grow in that capacity.