In 1980, Nancy Mintie, freshly graduated from UCLA Law School, moved to the Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Skid Row and started Inner City Law Center in a rusty construction trailer.
Founded on the basic principle that every person should always be treated with dignity and respect, Inner City Law Center quickly established itself as a fighter for justice and was dubbed by an early supporter as “the little Skid Row castle in the sky.”
Taking on the Slumlords
Soon after its launch, ICLC started handling complaints about miserable living conditions throughout Los Angeles’ downtown neighborhoods. In 1982, a young mother, her five little girls in tow, showed up at the door of ICLC’s trailer office with a large plastic bag. In the bag was a foot long rat (not counting the tail) that had attacked all five of her children. Because the rat was too big to catch in a conventional trap, the young mom stayed up several nights in a row, chasing it around the apartment until she was able to bash it over the head with a board. ICLC promptly accepted the case and the rat was put in formaldehyde and named Melvyn after the owner of the building. A stream of mothers from the building soon appeared at the ICLC trailer, each with her own four-legged exhibits. Soon the ICLC trailer, adorned with rats in glass jars, reeked of formaldehyde. Melvyn the Rat was ICLC’s lead exhibit at the ensuing trial.
In another early case, we represented two young children who suffered from cystic fibrosis. At night, the rats chewed into the feeding tubes hooked up to the childrens’ stomach shunts. ICLC’s legal team worked with pro bono support from our board to secure $2.1 million for the 44 tenants of this building.
In 1997, to more systematically address rampant slum conditions in Los Angeles, ICLC spearheaded the creation of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Slum Housing, which resulted in the creation of the Los Angeles Housing Department’s Systematic Code Enforcement Program.
Recently, ICLC represented 220 tenants (about half of whom were children) in a horrible slum case where stories such as this one from a teenage boy were routinely recounted: “One night a cockroach entered my ear while I was asleep. It was very painful. I could feel it moving around inside my ear and it seemed like it was biting me. My mom removed it with alcohol, and it eventually came out of my ear, dead.” The legal team at ICLC, again along with pro bono support from our board, succeeded in recovering $6.9 million for tenants who had lived in these terrible conditions.
In the early 1980’s, when ICLC first began taking on slumlords, most legal experts believed that there were little or no damages to be had in the slum housing arena. However, ICLC’s successes proved them wrong. With the pro bono assistance offered by members of the board, ICLC has emerged victorious in case after case. Over the years, ICLC has recovered over $30 million for our homeless and low-income clients.
Helping Homeless Veterans
ICLC has long been aware of the high incidence of homelessness among veterans because sadly many of them end up on Skid Row. Since 1998, ICLC’s Homeless Veterans Project has served disabled veterans who live without adequate housing.
Our staff works closely with volunteer attorneys to help homeless veterans obtain disability compensation as well as access to healthcare and housing. Often this work focuses on cases involving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), which require establishing both the existence of the disability and its connection to the veteran’s military service. These claims are unlikely to be successful without the help of a lawyer. For many veterans, disability benefits are the difference between stable housing and homelessness. ICLC has developed a particular expertise in helping homeless women veterans with their VA benefits claims.
The passion and dedication that launched Inner City Law Center in 1980 lives on and continues to motivate our current staff. Now located at the corner of Seventh and Central Avenue, on the eastern edge of Skid Row, ICLC’s staff of 40 provides quality legal representation for people who have nowhere else to turn. We continue to fight for justice for low-income tenants, working-poor families, immigrants, people who are homeless or disabled, and veterans. ICLC remains “the little Skid Row castle in the sky.”