The Brief: Law School News and Events

Sister Scullion Calls on Students to Seek 'Genuine Justice' for the Poor and Powerless

Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and president of Project H.O.M.E.,
delivers stirring remarks at Sparer Symposium in which she
encouraged students to eschew money and power and take up
meaningful public interest work. Her nonprofit organization provides
housing and services to homeless people in Philadelphia.  
Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and president of Project H.O.M.E., delivers stirring remarks at Sparer Symposium in which she encouraged students to eschew money and power and take up meaningful public interest work. Her nonprofit organization provides housing and services to homeless people in Philadelphia.
Sister Mary Scullion, the crusading co-founder and president of a nonprofit that provides temporary housing and services to Philadelphia's homeless, stood before students and implored them to fight for "genuine justice, " recounting her five-year struggle to overcome opposition to a group home in Philadelphia.

Scullion, head of Project H.O.M.E., said she had planned to create a permanent residential facility in North Philadelphia for 48 homeless and mentally ill persons. But residents and local officials did not welcome the so-called 1515 Fairmount Project.

They filed lawsuits in state courts and worked to deny H.O.M.E. funding from the state housing finance agency.

"From our perspective, it was a fundamental issue of civil and human rights," Scullion said during her keynote at this year's Edward V. Sparer Symposium in March, which focused on poverty law. "Namely, the rights for people in America to live in the neighborhood of their choice. It was a fight for 'We the People'... not them and us."

With the aid of pro bono legal advisors, like Penn Law professor David Rudovsky, H.O.M.E. compelled the U.S. Department of Justice to file a case in the Federal Court of Appeals.

Citing the Federal Fair Housing Act, the court ruled in favor of H.O.M.E. concluding that a neighborhood could not discriminate against the homeless and mentally ill.

Since the victory, Scullion said, property values have increased in the neighborhood. And many who once vigorously opposed "1515," are now supporting a second development in the area, she said.

Named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2009, Scullion urged Penn Law graduates to continue her work. "Your education, your intelligence, and your inherent talent should not be sold to the highest bidder," she said. "Our legal system was established with the highest ideals of preserving democracy, human rights, and helping society realize the greatest public health and well-being. Yet, under the influence of money and power, many in this profession end up not fighting for genuine justice."

Since she opened the nonprofit in 1989, Scullion has watched H.O.M.E. grow from one emergency winter shelter to 447 housing units across Philadelphia. None of which would have been possible without the services of the legal community, she said.

The Sparer Symposium closed Public Interest Week, an annual series of workshops and events that explore issues in pro bono and public interest lawyering. Joan Messing Graff, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, served as Honorary Fellow in Residence and delivered a lecture on representing disadvantaged workers.