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TCL > August 2000 Issue > Almost Homeless

August 2000       Vol. 29, No. 8       Page  53
Pro Bono Success Stories

Almost Homeless
by Candace C. Sparks

"I was terrified of what would become of us," said Northwest Colorado Legal Services Program ("NCLSP") client Wendy Jenks. On a cold and snowy February morning, just months after the Jenks family of five moved to Gunnison to help take care of Wendy’s ill mother, the family was served with an eviction notice. Finding adequate and affordable housing in the Gunnison Valley is no small feat, especially in the winter. Like many of the communities that service the major ski areas, Gunnison has a housing shortage.

The Jenkses landlord had just received a lucrative contract on the house the Jenkses were leasing. They had an option to buy the house written into their lease contract. The landlord, however, had an offer of cash in hand, and created false accusations to try to evict the family. He was harassing them and threatening to charge them for repairs and other costs that would have put them into debt if they stayed in the house.

The eviction was just part of their problems. Scott Jenks had just been laid off his job as a carpet layer. To make ends meet, he began delivering The Denver Post daily at 3 a.m.; nevertheless, he did not have the money needed to relocate his family. With nowhere to turn, no knowledge of eviction laws, and time being of the essence, the family’s fears mounted. The Social Services office in Gunnison recommended that the Jenkses call the NCLSP office.

Help Arrives

"Our situation certainly took a turn for the better," said Wendy Jenks. "After going through the intake process and speaking with the coordinator in Gunnison, I felt a great sense of relief. The Northwest Project handled our problem with great empathy and, most of all, speed." Wendy was given written information regarding housing laws in Colorado, and was told her case would be presented to the Gunnison pro bono panel for consideration. The NCLSP program, which partners with the Seventh Judicial District Bar Association, has a nearly 100 percent participation rate from private attorneys.

Just one day later, the Jenkses were assigned Rufus Wilderson, of the firm Russell, Wilderson, O’Hayre and Dawson, as their pro bono attorney. Robert O’Hayre of the same firm had just donated more than 100 hours of pro bono help to a local preschool project; nevertheless, on behalf of the firm, Rufus Wilderson jumped right into the case.

Wilderson met with the Jenkses immediately. "I spent some time explaining to the family their rights. Knowing that I would represent them and that they were not alone, or at fault, took untold pressure off Scott and Wendy," said Wilderson. Wilderson explained to the Jenkses that they were under no pressure to comply with the eviction notice, that the landlord was trying to create a default, and that they could get back to the business of daily life.

"Just three or four hours of my time made an amazing difference in the life of this family," said Wilderson. "I do know that without pro bono involvement, this family would certainly have been at the mercy of this irate landlord. It feels good to know I was able to make a positive impact on a struggling family." The Jenks family came to an out-of-court agreement with the landlord, which gave them a fair and just settlement. Because of the settlement, the Jenks family was able to afford to move, removing themselves from the problem of having to deal with such an uncooperative landlord. They were lucky enough to find another house that would accommodate them.

The Jenkses were immensely grateful for the expert help of Rufus Wilderson and the NCLSP. Attorneys can have a huge impact on the lives of others less fortunate than themselves. Often, all it takes is a commitment to pro bono and a few hours of their time. The rewards will follow.

Please send us your pro bono success stories to share with our readers. Contact Jo Ann Viola Salazar, CBA Director of Public and Legal Services, at (303) 824-5310; (800) 332-6736; e-mail her at:

This department is published bimonthly and is sponsored by the CBA Department of Public and Legal Services.

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