Homelessness and access to justice

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) provides legal assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness through the Homeless Persons Legal Service (HPLS) and the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Service (WHPS). Our services strive to address the legal issues that contribute to people’s homelessness and advocate for change that addresses the structural causes of homelessness. But as lawyers, we cannot do this alone. 

Ashley* is a 29-year-old woman who came to HPLS with over $10,000 of unpaid fines, mostly for sleeping on a train without a ticket. She had been kicked out of home and did not have anywhere to stay. She tried couch-surfing and sleeping in parks but sleeping on a train felt safer. Ashley could not afford a ticket because her JobSeeker payment barely covered the cost of food, medication, shoes (which often got stolen while she slept) and other essentials. Ashley relied on the support of homelessness services to get meals, showers, clothing, laundry and other supports.

HPLS worked with Ashley’s caseworkers to have the fines waived. Ultimately, we were successful in getting more than 35 fines cancelled. The people in our community most likely to accumulate debilitating debt often have the least capacity to deal with creditors to resolve their situation. Community legal services, including ours, play a critical role in negotiating payment plans, working with creditors to waive or reduce amounts owed, or supporting people to access financial hardship repayment arrangements under credit laws. 

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