Pro Bono Week Spotlight: Vinson & Elkins LLP
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” - Elizabeth Andrew
Have you ever thought about what it's like to be homeless at the age of 22? Or 17? Or even younger? What about homeless and without a parent or guardian to guide you? Can you still attend school? What if you get sick? How will you earn a living? How will you get to work even if you can find a job? Who will help you get your driver's license? Who can you turn to? Where can you go for help?
These are questions that thousands of Texas youth ask themselves on any given day. In fact, the Texas Education Agency found that approximately 113,000 students experienced homelessness sometime during the 2014-2015 school year. Moreover, that 113,000 number does not include children who are enrolled in school but are hiding the fact that they are homeless, or children who should be enrolled but aren't, or youth 18-24 who are learning how to survive as adults with little to no support.
When Texas Appleseed shared this information with the attorneys at Vinson & Elkins LLP, they immediately answered the call for assistance on one of Texas Appleseed's newest projects: a homeless youth policy report. In 2015, the Texas Legislature asked for a first-in-the-nation, statewide count of homeless youth. But Texas Appleseed and the Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS) decided to make this issue a more substantive priority and partnered to create a policy report that will go a step further. The goals of the report are to:
- “put a face” on kids who experience homelessness in Texas,
- highlight systemic failures that lead youth into homelessness and perpetuate the problem, and
- suggest policy fixes for the 85th Texas Legislature to consider.
This summer, Partner Doug Bland and Pro Bono Counsel Ellyn Josef led a team of over 30 Vinson & Elkins attorneys and summer associates in researching and collecting information for the policy report. After a brief training on the preliminary issues homeless youth might be facing, these incredible individuals interviewed judges, law enforcement officers, local mental health authority workers, social workers, youth service providers, and child protective services workers from El Paso to Houston about their involvement with youth who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness.
These interviews conducted by Vinson & Elkins are not only an essential part of Texas Appleseed's process for understanding a new issue area, but they enabled Texas Appleseed and TNOYS to speak directly to over 100 youth about their personal experiences. Vinson & Elkins didn't leave it at conducting the interviews; they have also agreed to assist Texas Appleseed and TNOYS in any further legal research that will help in formulating policy solutions to the problems the policy report team, including Vinson & Elkins, identifies. For all of that and much more, we are immeasurably grateful.
This isn't the first time Vinson & Elkins has readily answered Texas Appleseed's call to do pro bono work, and we are so very thankful we can be confident it won't be the last.
Thank you Vinson & Elkins, and Happy Pro Bono Week!!!