Georgetown University Law Center
EJA Fellowship Recipient Summer
Domestic Violence Program Director, National
Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Washington,
an individual who is in a violent relationship
and already living in poverty, this harsh
reality often means that she must choose
between life with her abuser or life on the
Stern never wavered from the path she set for herself.
Ever since she was a teenager, Stern says, she knew she
wanted to work for social justice. “I studied social
science in college,” she says, “volunteered
a ridiculous number of hours on various causes—often
leading the charge—and worked on social policy
issues after graduating.”
A law degree seemed the next logical step, so Stern attended Georgetown University
Law Center. She wasn’t sure, however, what exactly she wanted to do – until
the summer of 2000, when Equal Justice America granted her a summer fellowship
at the Washington, D.C. organization Ayuda, Inc. Ayuda provides bilingual legal
services to the local immigrant community in the areas of immigration law and
domestic violence and family law.
“I had worked or volunteered previously in the areas of family law, child
abuse and neglect, education, social policy, and economic justice,” Stern
says. But never before had she worked so specifically on the issue of violence
against women. The EJA-funded experience changed her life.
Stern, herself from a family of immigrants and refugees, had recently learned
to speak Spanish. That summer, she worked full-time in Ayuda’s bilingual
domestic violence legal clinic, assisting clients with petitions for civil protection
orders and related family law matters.
“It was amazing to work directly with women who were so brave in coming
forward to seek legal help, against tremendous cultural, linguistic, and economic
barriers—not to mention the life-threatening dynamics of abuse that trap
so many women in these relationships in the first place,” Stern says.
Now, she manages the Domestic Violence Program at the National Law Center on
Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, D.C. “As a staff attorney there,” Stern
says, “I work at the national level to improve access to housing for domestic
violence survivors and their families.”
Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness nationally, she points out.
Between 22 percent and 57 percent of homeless women report that domestic violence
was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Often, domestic violence survivors
become homeless after being evicted as a result of the violence against them.
To make matters worse, Stern says, there’s a severe shortage of affordable
housing for low-income individuals and families in the U.S. Federal housing assistance
programs, including public housing, subsidy programs and emergency shelters,
are all underfunded, under increasing political attack, and insufficient to meet
the rapidly growing need. “For an individual who is in a violent relationship
and already living in poverty,” Stern says, “this harsh reality often
means that she must choose between life with her abuser or life on the streets.”
Despite the lack of funding and support from the federal government for her work,
Stern says, she’s glad to have the chance to fight domestic violence. “I
love that I am able to work on the cross-cutting issues of women’s rights
and economic justice,” she says.
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