FROM FUNDRAISING TO PRO BONO WORK, BANKRUPTCY LAWYER IRVING E. WALKER
HELPS BREAK DOWN BARRIERS FOR THE HOMELESS OF MARYLAND BY KAITLYN WALSH
On Jan. 25, 2011, Baltimore City’s Mayor’s
Office of Human Services, among others,
counted the number of homeless people
in the city and found that the total had
jumped more than 50 percent in just eight
years: from 2,681 to 4,088. Compared to its
2009 count, there was a nearly 20 percent
increase in those sleeping on the streets or
in shelters that night.
Irving E. Walker wants to fix that.
“There are blocks [of abandoned homes]
where it’s like a ghost town,” says Walker, a
bankruptcy lawyer at Cole, Schotz, Meisel,
Forman & Leonard. “And there are so many
people that need housing. … We’re talking
about not having a place to live.”
As the board president of the
Homeless Persons Representation Project
(HPRP), it’s Walker’s job to raise funds,
recruit volunteers and implement new
programming so the organization can
provide free legal help to homeless people
or those at risk of losing their homes.
Housing should come first, Walker says.
Then it’s easier for people to get consistent
help for issues that often lead to such dire
straits—mental illness, substance abuse,
unemployment. “People who have no
place to live can’t really face or successfully
address their problems,” he says.
Walker grew up in Baltimore in the
1950s. His dad, a small-home builder,
put a roof over his head. His mom, a
homemaker, put warm meals on the table.
He says he’s been “lucky that way,” so he
feels compelled to help those who haven’t.
“We go to the shelters to find the
clients,” Walker says, “and we educate
them about what their rights are and what
issues they may have that they don’t even
know about.” And then about 400 pro
bono volunteers (law students, paralegals
and lawyers) take their cases, sometimes
to help them get government benefits, like
In parts of the state, landlords can
refuse to rent to people with government-issued housing vouchers, Walker says.
HPRP, which has nine staff members, has
been trying to convince the Legislature
that such income-based discrimination
should be prohibited.
The nonprofit persuaded the Housing
Authority of Baltimore City to let those who
have violations on their criminal records
be eligible for housing. HPRP also helps
expunge their records so they can find jobs
Under Walker’s leadership, the
organization has increased donations and
grown the past five years, says Antonia
Fasanelli, the executive director.
“It would not have been possible without
him,” Fasanelli says. “His vision was that
every lawyer in Baltimore should know
about the organization and should, once
they learn about the work of HPRP, know
that they can play a part.”
That’s why Walker got involved.
“[HPRP] gives me an opportunity to
serve others,” Walker says. Professionally
and otherwise, he helps people in trouble
“find a way to navigate out of it so that they
can have a better life. I always see the silver
lining. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do what I do.”