Welcome to Mercy Law Resource Centre
Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) is an independent law centre, registered charity and company limited by guarantee which provides free legal advice and representation to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless in the areas of social housing and related social welfare law. The Centre also seeks to advocate change in laws, policies and attitudes which unduly and adversely impact its client group. For more information on our governance, please click here.
Mercy Law Resource Centre’s vision is of a society where each individual lives in dignity and enjoys equal rights, in particular the right to a home, which is fundamental to each human being. MLRC’s vision is also of a society where every individual enjoys equal access to justice and legal recourse in order to vindicate those rights.
MLRC provides five key services:
- Free legal advice clinics in hostels for people who are homeless and in centres that are easily accessible for people facing homelessness
- Legal representation
- Legal support and training for organisations working in the field of homelessness
- Policy work to advocate changes to the laws, policies and attitudes that are particularly harsh for people facing homelessness, and on the margins of our society
- Befriending service for clients who present with specific vulnerabilities and are in need of support
MLRC provides a unique service that is accessible and, as far as possible, shaped to meet the individual needs of each client. Where possible, we meet clients in their own environment e.g. by providing advice clinics in homeless hostels. We work with other organisations in the statutory and voluntary sectors to ensure clients have the appropriate supports they need. We also have a team of volunteer befrienders who provide clients with emotional support as they go through the difficult process of seeking to assert their rights. MLRC’s ethos recognises the dignity of each person. We seek to ensure that all people are treated with respect and compassion and are enabled to access their full potential as human beings. We are committed to the principles of human rights, social justice, equality and community participation.
“Poor Law” (e.g. housing and social welfare law) is not catered for by either the private sector or the State legal aid system. The legal assistance which is available is often limited to advice only and is not always accessible to our clients. Homeless persons are on the extreme margins of society and have additional hurdles in accessing legal services, rights and entitlements. A further issue is that the services available are often fragmented ignoring the cluster of problems which our client group often experience i.e. other legal and non-legal problems. Our experience has shown that homelessness is not an isolated issue and our client group face a number of other difficulties, including: Marital/ Family Breakdown; Domestic Violence; Mental Health; Drug / Alcohol Addiction; Immigration issues; Leaving Prison and Trafficking/ Prostitution.
At first sight, ‘Law’ and ‘Mercy’ appear to have little to do with each other. Mercy Law Resource Centre was born out of a desire to bring together these two differing worlds in the hope that, as law becomes ever more dominant and influential in our society, it would be illuminated and resourced by the values of compassion and justice for all, including the poor.
An opportunity to do just this arose when a lawyer, Michele O Kelly, joined the Sisters of Mercy. With the encouragement of the Mercy leadership team, first under Sr. Helena O’Donoghue and then under Sr. Peggy Collins, the idea was conceived, not only of using law to advocate on behalf of those who are most marginalised and in need, but also of ‘doing law’ differently i.e. in a way that was genuinely accessible and of real help to the lives of those on the margins of society.
In preparation for this goal, consultations were held in 2008 by Sr. Michele O’Kelly and Sr. Anne Doyle with a number of interest groups in order to determine where the greatest need was for the type of service the Sisters of Mercy were seeking to provide and how it would best be provided. From these consultations, it emerged that the group most in need were people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness; which included those struggling with issues linked to homelessness such as addiction, mental illness, leaving prison and relationship breakdown.
With financial support from the Sisters of Mercy, a Law Centre was set up to provide legal services to this group. It was staffed by one solicitor (Michele O Kelly) and one administrator (Caitriona O’Hara) and it operated out of a room kindly provided by Sophia Housing, appropriately on the grounds of what used to be the old Mercy convent in Cork St. Incorporation as a company took place in May 2009 and charitable status was granted in June 2009.
From the outset, advice clinics were provided in homeless hostels (initially Crosscare, Charlemont Street and St. Vincent De Paul Hostel, Back Lane) and close links were developed with organisations working with those who are homeless. In this way, MLRC sought to make the service accessible and of real help to the people it wanted to serve. In addition, a befriending service was set up whereby volunteers could befriend and accompany clients of the Centre, through their journey through the legal system. A training programme was developed with the help of the Women’s Therapy Centre and eight befrienders began in the autumn of 2009.
In these distinctive ways, the aspirations with which the Centre was founded began to take concrete shape- a free, quality and holistic legal service to people most in need.
Mercy Law Resource Centre is a very good service; the team really helped me – they saved me. I was referred to Mercy Law by Focus Ireland, after I was refused emergency homeless accommodation by the local authority. From the day I attended Mercy Law, I worked very closely with one of the solicitors. She was very good, encouraging and supportive to me and my family. I could never have resolved my difficulties without her help. All of the staff at the Centre were courteous and understanding of my situation. The support from the Centre has made a real difference to my life and the life of my children. Others have spoken to me about their service and how it has helped them hugely.
I found my solicitor at MLRC to be extremely helpful and the service provided by the Centre invaluable. My solicitor helped me access emergency homeless accommodation when I was at risk of sleeping rough with my young children. When I was then allocated very unsuitable homeless accommodation for me and my family by the local authority, my solicitor kept working on my case to ensure I accessed appropriate accommodation. I was pregnant during all of this time and it was very stressful. She helped a tremendous amount and I would recommend the service to anyone in a similar situation.
“We are very grateful, Mercy Law kept
ringing and sending letters into the Council and
made sure we were getting looked after. Everything
turned out perfect, we got a home, we are very happy,
the kids are very happy and are in school now.
Everything worked out for us. We want to say
a big thank you to Mercy Law.”