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When clients arrive at the Shade Tree Shelter for homeless women and their children, a roof over their heads is only the first thing they need.
Many come from abusive relationships and are in need of court protection. Others require medical care. And they all need assistance in putting their shattered lives back together.
Helping start the process of rebuilding these lives is a team led by Joe Regalia, an adjunct professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law. Regalia, his students, and Boyd alumni venture weekly to the shelter for Friday-morning legal-empowerment lectures.
"These women who had all these ideas about what court is and what it was going to be like to be court and just terrified of it," Regalia said "Now that they're actually doing it. They're actually standing up and practicing like they're in court. They're writing the documents. You can see a huge change in them. A lot of the fear taken out."
Marshaling the energy of his students and his experience representing low-income clients, Regalia’s Pro Se Boot Camp offers common-sense advice about navigating the legal and medical bureaucracies and standing up for yourself.
"Folks have a huge need for legal help in our country," Regalia told KNPR's State of Nevada, "Family disputes, immigration stuff, civil lawsuits - stuff that's really important you have no right to an attorney."
Regalia believes people can handle most of these legal issues on their own when they're given the right tools. He said people living in poverty are in court a lot more than people who aren't, but they obviously don't have the resources to pay for an attorney.
"The crazy thing is although they're in court all the time, they are the least likely to get a lawyer and they are the least likely to be able to navigate the system on their own," he said.
Shani Coleman is one of the students who works on the programs. She is also a redevelopment manager for the city of Las Vegas. She said there is a comparison between working to redevelopment neighborhoods and redevelop people.
"In my day job, we look at the value of buildings. We look at the value of neighborhoods," she said, "As part of redevelopment, one of our goals is to help increase that... so recognizing the specialness and the value that these women hold and helping them to see that value in themselves and helping uplift them, so I think that is a wonderful analogy."
Coleman said there are two important messages that the Pro Se Boot Camp tries to get across to their clients. First is that they can face the legal system on their own and second that there is a community of people there to help them.
"They don't have to be afraid of the legal system and there is somebody out there that is willing to support them," she said.
Joe Regalia, Boyd Law professor and Pro Se Boot Camp founder; Shani Coleman, Boyd Law School student
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