“If I can delay an eviction for five or six years, or if I can get a case dismissed for a client, I consider that an accomplishment,” says AIDS Center of Queens County’s Odella Woodson (’03).
Protecting the rights of clients who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS is something Woodson has done for about a decade, representing them in housing court or family court. She has worked with clients on permanency planning and long-term healthcare. Before her career as an attorney, Woodson worked at a needle-exchange program.
What she does amounts to hand-to-hand combat, battling for social justice and winning cases for the impoverished living with HIV infection and AIDS. She measures her progress and success in increments.
“It is my responsibility to even it out just a little, tiny bit,” says Woodson of her client work. “I don’t aspire to fix a problem, but I aspire to keep people housed-at least until their kids finish school. It’s not too much to ask of me.”
Nor is it too much to ask of others. It is the responsibility, she believes, of those who have so much-whether it’s an apartment, friends and family, an iPhone or indoor plumbing-to help people make it through one more month with a roof over their heads.
Thwarting that effort is the high cost of living in New York City that can make it impossible for people to stay in the area, if they want to find adequate housing. One of Woodson’s clients recently got evicted from a three-bedroom house she had been renting for $1,500 a month for the past 10 years for herself, her husband, and four grandchildren. The client ended up moving to Tampa, FL, where she found a house for $800 a month.
“That’s the third case I’ve had in the past two years where people move to North Carolina, Virginia, and now Florida,” says Woodson, referring to clients who live on a fixed income, whether from a pension, social security disability insurance, or supplemental security income.
Unbowed, Woodson fights on for clients’ rights, whether in housing court or elsewhere. It’s why she became a lawyer in the first place.
“I heard a rumor that I would be able to do something good for society,” she says, “and, so far, it has proven to be true.”
– Paul Lin