Erin Blasko | August 8, 2018
James Cheney, a recent University of Notre Dame Law School graduate, was at work at the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center when the phone rang.
It was late October, and Cheney was working under Judith Fox, a professor of clinical law, in the Economic Justice Clinic, one of five faculty-run clinics that provide free legal services to individuals, small businesses and nonprofits. He had been trying to contact Emma Gillam, a prospective client, for several months about the disputed sale of her home to a local real estate investor.
Earlier in the day, Cheney, who is from the Bay Area of Northern California, had sent a letter to Gillam, pleading with her to contact him directly “or else there’s nothing we can do for you.”
Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line, a member of Broadway Christian Parish, a local church with a long history of homeless outreach, had good news: They’d found Gillam, living in a homeless encampment beneath an old railroad viaduct in downtown South Bend.
“I got the call, and she was like, ‘Yeah, she should be there right now,’” Cheney said of the caller, parishioner Ronda Hughes. “And I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Cheney jumped in his 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove south to the viaduct. Surrounded by vacant lots and buildings, the 1920s-era structure sits in the up-and-coming Renaissance District, a business and technology district south of downtown that includes the sole remaining former Studebaker Corp. factory — soon to be a massive tech hub — and the city’s minor league baseball park.
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