Filling a need: Student to help Tampa Bay homeless veterans after graduation

When Cherilyn Hansen graduates from Stetson law school this spring, she will be one step closer to following her passion to serve people in need in the community.

Cherilyn Hansen graduates, starts her work with homeless veterans in the fall.

Cherilyn Hansen starts her work with homeless veterans in the fall.

Hansen shared that her goal in going to law school was always a career in public service and legal aid. Before law school, she worked with labor unions in New York and Washington D.C. and completed a master’s degree in international development. Her roots in the Tampa Bay area, where she attended Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg, drew her to Stetson law school.

At Stetson, Hansen applied for a competitive fellowship through Equal Justice Works. With the help of the EJW fellowship, law students can create a role that does not yet exist and serve a need that is not being met in the community.

Hansen, a student in Stetson’s social justice advocacy concentration, said that her work with Professor Stacey-Rae Simcox in Stetson’s Veterans Advocacy Clinic opened her eyes to the need for free legal services for veterans in the area.

“St. Petersburg has the highest number of homeless veterans in the state,” said Hansen. “There are crucially few sources in St. Petersburg providing the free legal services that homeless veterans need,” said Hansen.

She said she was happily surprised that she was selected for the two-year EJW fellowship.

Starting in September, with the help of the fellowship and sponsorship from the Greenberg Traurig, LLP law firm and the Florida Bar Foundation, Hansen will begin assisting homeless veterans with civil matters through Gulfcoast Legal Services back in her hometown of St. Petersburg.

“This is where the work needs to be done–locally,” said Hansen.

She points to the housing first approach that the Bay Pines Veterans Administration takes to put homeless veterans in a home. Hansen said she would ultimately like to set up a medical legal partnership at the Veterans Administration to help veterans obtain disability benefits.

Hansen said that she wants more people to understand the great value in doing legal aid work.

“I recently read a statistic–somewhere close to 70 percent of low income people’s legal needs are not being fulfilled in the community,” said Hansen. “We need to match lawyers who need jobs with people who need lawyers.”