By Bruce Mulkey
(Pictured) Kristin Hendriksen, Northwestern Law (JD 2020) EJA Veterans’ Rights Fellow, Legal Aid Chicago
Upon returning from the Vietnam War, many veterans confronted Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hostility toward service members who’d served in the war, and challenges adjusting to civilian life.
W.W., a 65-year-old Vietnam vet who suffers from drug and alcohol addiction, is one of those who has struggled.
Accused of being inebriated and boisterous in a common area of his Section 8 housing, W.W. was in imminent danger of being evicted, an action that could have cost him his monthly housing subsidy and likely led to homelessness.
When the eviction action was filed, W.W. sought help from Legal Aid Chicago, an organization that provides free civil legal services to people living in poverty in Cook County. Jessica Kalmewicki, a supervisory attorney for Legal Aid Chicago, realized she had the ideal attorney to support W.W. in his legal challenges—Equal Justice America Fellow Kristin Hendriksen.
Wisely, Kristin filed a motion to dismiss the eviction action based on a technical defense. Though the judge ultimately denied Kristin’s motion to dismiss, the strategic filing opened the door to negotiations, which the property management had, until that point, been unwilling to entertain. With W.W.’s permission, Kristin convinced property management to give him another chance to maintain his desperately needed subsidy and stay in his apartment. The case was settled with an order requiring W.W. to, among other things, pay his back rent and enter into a drug and alcohol rehab program.
With Kristin’s support, W.W. began working in earnest to save money to pay his back rent—no small task, considering his addiction issue. Kristin also worked with W.W. to locate a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. In the end, W.W. was able to pay his back rent, and he agreed to enter into rehab. Kristin’s advocacy, trial practice skills, and creative problem-solving not only preserved W.W.’s housing, but also put him on track for a more stable and healthier quality of life.
“Kristin has managed her clients with patience and compassion, and her cases with care, dedication, and enthusiasm,” said Kalmewicki. “She has found and presented creative arguments and solutions. She has kept her clients housed—a measure of security that most of us rarely have to take.”
“Because of the Equal Justice America Fellowship,” said Kristin, “I have had the opportunity to help veterans who wrongly faced the threat of eviction maintain their housing by advocating for and representing them in negotiations and eviction court. Furthermore, with the help of my colleagues in Legal Aid Chicago’s Housing Practice Group and Veteran’s Rights Project, I have connected with organizations that target veteran homelessness and hosted presentations that outline the eviction process during normal and pandemic times. Helping veterans keep their housing is the most rewarding work of my life, and I look forward to continuing it.”