By Kirsty Fitzgibbons
Names of clients have been changed to protect confidentiality.
My day begins! First, I look at the local arrests online to see if any alleged abusers in any of our legal cases were arrested over the last 24 hours. I follow this by checking phone calls and emails from the Hopeful Horizons Support Line, legal team, clients and other attorneys. Things can change so quickly, and we need to be on top of any potential issues as soon as possible.
While I am checking my emails, I review new clients that have come from the Support Line. The Support Line operates 24/7 and managed by Hopeful Horizons Advocates. The advocates speak with victims of abuse who call in for services and the advocates then send referrals to the appropriate departments – the legal team, the children’s advocacy center, the shelter and adult services team.
The view from Kirsty's home office during the pandemic
[photo of a desk with a computer and files on it, looking out windows into a backyard]
I call clients who have requested legal assistance to complete an intake interview with them, so I can present their case to our attorney and a decision can be made about whether we are able to help.
Today I am calling two victims who need our help. These intakes can be especially hard for clients and can take some time. I need to get the relevant information from the client, which could mean asking them to talk about the hardest thing they have ever had to deal with. I am not a counselor and I don’t have weeks or months to talk things over – I have about an hour at most to get the information I need. This can be stressful and upsetting for them. I want to make sure that our clients feel heard and that they tell me all the information they feel is important. At the same time, there is certain information I need to assess the case.
I call Brenda, who has an eviction hearing set for this afternoon. Brenda is anxious – I can hear it in her voice. She cries a little and I tell her I will be at court with her this afternoon, she doesn’t have to go through this alone. Brenda is a victim of domestic violence; she is in a shared house situation and she became romantically involved with a roommate. He strangled her during an argument and has now complained to the landlord that she is not allowing him to live peacefully in the house. Brenda has also complained about the attack to the landlord. The landlord is trying to evict her and the reasons are not clear. While I am not an attorney and cannot provide legal advice, I can be in court with her in a supportive capacity.
I receive a call from Hopeful Horizons’ shelter director. There is a client in shelter, Sarah, who needs to get to Columbia. She has friends and family there and wants to return home to be closer to her support system and get away from her abuser.
Can I find any funds to pay for this? First thing is to find out how much a bus ticket would cost. Problem – I can get Sarah from Savanah to Columbia late tomorrow night, but the only bus to Savannah is at 6:45 am tomorrow morning. I’m worried that an entire day is too long for anyone to wait at a bus station, least of all someone who has recently experienced trauma. I need another option to get Sarah to Savannah later in the day. After doing more research, I find that the options for funding a trip such as this is limited to bus tickets. So, it’s going to have to do. I begin the application process for funding. I need to get it done soon because there are time constraints, and the client needs to go tomorrow. I begin completing applications in the hope that I can find the money from somewhere.
While I am working on this, I get a call from a current legal client, Hazel, whose abusive husband is stalking and harassing her. We discuss what has been happening and I make some notes for her file. This is an ongoing problem and we discuss making another report to law enforcement. Hazel is afraid to make another report in case it makes things worse. It could. We agree to make contact the next day after Hazel has had time to consider her options.
Preparation for court accompaniment this afternoon – I arrive at the courthouse early and wait for her outside. I wait and wait. It’s hot and there is no sign of Brenda. I decide to go into the hearing even though Brenda is late. I can at least view what happens and hear what the landlord’s case is, in case Brenda doesn’t make it in time. Luckily, the afternoon session has a case before Brenda’s so when she rushes in 10 minutes late, she hasn’t missed this hearing. Brenda is stressed and panicking because she was late; she is crying and shaking with fear. Being in court is scary and overwhelming, particularly when you might lose your home. I hold Brenda’s hand and give her some tissues. I whisper to her to breathe and try to calm her down. She needs to be able to speak clearly and be heard by the judge.
The Judge calls Brenda’s case. I show Brenda where she needs to sit and I return to the back of the court room. Brenda is so anxious she starts talking and the judge asks her to stop. Brenda keeps trying to interrupt in her haste to feel heard by the judge and I go and sit with her to calm her down. The Judge is trying to hear all sides, but Brenda is so anxious. She is still crying and the words just burst out of her when she feels she is being attacked by the landlord’s representative. The Judge gives her a final warning that if she does not calm down and stop interrupting, she will ask Brenda to leave the court room.
I hold Brenda’s hand again and talk quietly to her when she looks like she can’t maintain silence any longer. After everyone has said what they need to, the Judge rules in Brenda’s favor, finding the landlord has not presented any evidence to support their case that Brenda is disturbing the peace. We leave the court room and Brenda tells me that she was in such a state because when she got to the courthouse, she parked her car but was then told she was not allowed to park there, so she had to go back to her car and move it further away. This sent her into a panic because she wasn’t expecting it and it made her late.
We talk outside and come up with a self-care plan for her for the rest of the afternoon. We discuss options for the future and I promise to check in with her later in the week.
Back at the office, I need to continue working on bus tickets for Sarah. I call her case manager at our shelter, who tells me that the problem is now solved. Sarah has been able to fund her own ticket and did not want to use our funds if she did not have to. I get to work on cancelling the applications I submitted earlier.
I have text messages from clients and a few emails to respond to. I check them for urgency and decide I can deal with them tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day and there will be new challenges. It’s time for my own self care.
Kirsty Fitzgibbons was a Court Advocate for Hopeful Horizons before taking the position of Hopeful Horizons' Fund Development Coordinator in May of 2021.
If you are in need of Hopeful Horizons' services, please call our 24/7 Support Line at 843-770-1070.