December 4, 2013
During the oppressive July heat wave this past summer, Mark Hess (’12), a housing attorney for the HIV Law Project, helped his client comply with an agreement to deaden the sound of his allegedly heavy feet.
Hess, two interns, and the client’s home attendant moved furniture and then installed heavy area rugs and padding.
Hess counts the situation as one of the most memorable of his career to date.
“Five hours later, after a lot of mid-July sweat and a few cups of coffee, the rugs were put down and the client couldn’t have been happier,” says Hess. “The HIV Law Project allows myself and our attorneys to intervene in dire situations and provide essential services to people who desperately lack that access.”
As a housing attorney, Hess spends half his time doing legal work – including court appearances, writing motions, and more – and the other half as an advocate, talking to New York’s HIV/AIDS Service Administration, a public assistance agency for HIV-positive people, and meeting with clients, social workers, or addiction counselors.
Nearly all of Hess’s housing clients get their income from public assistance; others are employed or were recently employed.
“HIV/AIDS can cut across different racial and socio-economic boundaries, which makes every day a little different and exciting,” Hess says.
Hess started working on HIV/AIDS issues as a third-year student in CUNY Law’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Clinic, after being assigned to work with the non-profit Voices of Community Activist and Leaders (VOCAL-NY).
“I’ll always look back on my clinical work in the CED Clinic as a transformative time. I was able to gain hands-on experience and do great work for a dynamic organization,” says Hess.
His clinical experience at CUNY Law led him to seek similar work with a HIV/AIDS organization after graduation, eventually finding part-time and then full-time work with his current employer.
“I recognized that people with HIV face enormous stress and difficulty on a daily basis, not only from their health but from stigma and discrimination. Eviction from housing severely exacerbates that,” says Hess.
With his career still ahead of him, Hess tries to take each day as it comes, and to approach each client’s situation with a sense of hope, vigor, and pursuit of justice.
“I’m motivated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in New York City don’t have stable access to basic necessities like they ought to: food, shelter, and respect,” he says.
– Paul Lin