A New View on Local Law | Bayview Hunter's Point District of San Francisco
The flickering Bay Bridge lights are hardly visible when the T train reaches Third Street and La Salle in Bayview-Hunters Point. A few blocks down, past the corner stores that illuminate men gathered around entryways and parents walking their children home, is the Salvation Army Ministry—inside is Bayview/Hunters Point Community Legal.
Opened in January 2013, BHPCL and has since offered pro-bono legal advice to any low-income 94124 resident. The nonprofit’s co-founders, Adrian Tirtanadi and Virginia Taylor, just opened their 250th case.
Even in its third year, BHPCL is already a district problem solver—a “welcome blessing,” says local supervisor Malia Cohen. It has taken on the city, regaining seized property and even working alongside City Attorney Dennis Herrera to take down a fraudulent local tax preparer.
More generally, it helps others by determining the viability of legal issues, advising clients on their rights, and solving problems outside the court system through administrative advocacy, mediation, or small claim filings. If a client needs to go to civil court, BHPCL has a network of about 80 attorney referrals waiting.
“It is a fact of modern America that you cannot exercise your rights without access to the courts, and you cannot access the courts without the help of a lawyer,” explains Tirtanadi, a top-of-his-class University of San Francisco School of Law graduate who incorporated BHPCL and wrote its 501(c)(3) application and by-laws while he was still a student. “What is the point of having rights if you can’t enforce them?”
There are four major low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco: Mid-Market, Chinatown, the Mission, and Bayview/Hunters Point. The first three neighborhoods have a variety of legal services available in their communities. Until two years ago, however, Bayview had none.
“We used to call ourselves Hunters Point, USA, because the city never did anything for us,” says Dr. Espanola Jackson, neighborhood activist and founder of the Black Human Rights Leadership Council of San Francisco.
When Dr. Jackson’s daughter died two years ago, she inherited a teenage grandson and needed to know his rights. “I went to [BHPCL] because I had seen their office in the Salvation Army building,” she says. The service leaders found information about her son-in-law, a war veteran, and ensured he would receive survivor Social Security benefits. “They did an excellent job for me. After that, I started referring everyone to them.” Today, Jackson serves on the organization’s board of directors.
BHPCL does it all—landlord-tenant, family law, probate, public benefits, and criminal infractions—because, Tirtanadi explains, “we believe that if you think long enough about it, anyone would likewise feel personally responsible for a system that marginalizes communities.”
His co-founder agrees. “I will never understand. I learned that when I interviewed black prisoners in an all-female facility in Chowchilla. But I was able to go to law school and get the tools to solve problems. I feel responsible to teach those tools to the most vulnerable so they can enforce their own rights,” Taylor says.
The community has been putting these tools to use. “People would be homeless without [BHPCL],” says Jackson. “It has been a continuous struggle, and I shouldn’t have to be fighting alone.”
To learn more about BHPCL or show your support, visit their website.<