Public Interest

Legal intern raises over $41K to help homeless couple who are 'no longer invisible'

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A homeless couple who lived in a tent in Washington, D.C., may soon have an apartment to call home, thanks to the efforts of a legal intern and the people who donated more than $41,000 to a GoFundMe campaign.

In a March 22 article, the Washington Post had described how Monica Diaz and Pete Etheridge readied to pack up their tent and belongings before city workers cleaned out their tent city in the usual biweekly sweep. Diaz works at a fast-food restaurant but is unable to afford housing on her under-the-table wages. Diaz’s driver’s license was cleared away in the first encampment sweep, and she wasn’t able to secure a minimum-wage job without it.

This time, however, the homeless couple learned that they would get a reprieve because of city concerns about hypothermia. Even so, it was a breaking point for Diaz. “Acknowledge us!” she yelled at people on the street. “We’re human beings! Please, just acknowledge us!”

Diaz got her wish when she received help from Howard University 3L Gabriela Sevilla, who is a legal intern at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the Washington Post reported in a follow-up story.

Sevilla had met Diaz and Etheridge when she went to a Feb. 28 encampment cleanup as a legal observer. Sevilla had spoken with Diaz and was taken by similarities in their backgrounds.

“Here was a woman just like her,” the Washington Post reported, “a Latina raised by immigrants, who’d never had much in her life. Sevilla knew what it was like to get evicted and to feel untethered from family. In an alternative reality, Sevilla realized, their roles could easily have been swapped, with her in the tent and Diaz peering in from the outside.”

Sevilla set up a GoFundMe campaign for the couple and had raised more than $41,700 as of April 3.

Sevilla reported in a GoFundMe update that the couple had viewed a promising apartment and would be submitting a rental application. They have new interview clothes from TJ Maxx, new haircuts and veterinary care for their dog, Sassy. Furniture has been donated for the apartment, and food has been donated for Sassy.

Sevilla thanked those who donated and thanked the Washington Post writer who profiled them. “Now everyone could see what I see. They were no longer invisible,” Sevilla wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have Gabi in my corner,” Diaz said in the Washington Post story. “In every aspect, she’s everything for me. I thought nobody cared.”

Sevilla told the Washington Post: “It felt like she’s my sister. I’ve learned to hope again.”

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