|Kaye Hudson, EBCLC Social Work Program alum, received her Masters in Social Work in May 2019.|
In past lives, Kaye Hudson , MSW, has competed in darts on the national stage, owned her own hobby shop, and operated a daycare center. But it’s at EBCLC that she launched the career in which she was always destined to excel.
“Once I got in here, it’s like everything came naturally,” said Kaye, who interned with EBCLC’s Housing Clinic last year while working towards her Masters in Social Work. “I wanted to be here because I grew up in Berkeley. I wanted to do something for my community and help change it.”
New Models of Advocacy
EBCLC may not seem like the most obvious place to intern for someone pursuing a social work degree. In fact, the organization is somewhat unique among legal aid providers for its holistic model, which integrates social workers and social work students into its legal practice areas.
This innovative model was implemented at EBCLC by Whitney Rubenstein , who as a law student both in EBCLC’s Housing Clinic and the Education Defense and Justice for Youth Clinic began to trace a disturbing trend: although EBCLC attorneys and law students were able to consistently help their clients achieve good legal outcomes, these victories were often temporary because the underlying causes that brought clients into contact with the legal system were not being addressed.
Already a credentialed social worker herself, Whitney recognized the need to integrate robust case and crisis management and supportive services into EBCLC’s legal work. She received an Equal Justice Works fellowship to pilot an interdisciplinary legal-social work practice at EBCLC five years ago. Today, she’s the director of EBCLC’s Social Work Program, which will soon boast a staff of three (including Wendy Hernandez , a social worker specifically focused on immigration services who joined EBCLC in 2017) and trains around four MSW students per year.
Social Work Program Director
Immigration Program Social Worker
“As a student, Kaye exemplified the revolutionary impact that social workers can make when they join legal teams,” said Whitney, who supervised Kaye during her internship. “We can fight evictions in the courtroom all day, but if families don’t have a sustainable way to maintain their incomes, if they don’t have good healthcare, and if their psycho-social needs aren’t met, those victories are going to be short-lived. Kaye went so far above and beyond to advocate for her clients’ well-being and help them to pave their own pathways to stability.”
Changing Places, Changing Lives
Growing up in Berkeley, Kaye recollected that she and her siblings “had breakfast with the Black Panthers and dinner with the Hare Krishnas”, and showed up for protests and community gatherings along with their neighbors. Later, as a teen, she played softball for Berkeley High and built a park in honor of a deceased classmate along with other youth involved in city manager Weldon Rucker’s Young Adult Project. The Berkeley in which she was born and raised was widely seen as the home to democratic social movements, diverse public spaces, and creative opportunities of all kinds.
Today, however, the affordable housing crisis catalyzed by the influx of the new tech worker class in the East Bay has dealt major damage to the area’s social fabric- and the corresponding homelessness crisis has laid threat to Berkeley’s reputation as a progressive hub. “I call it undermining the Section 8 program,” said Kaye. “You have an owner who is willing to enroll in the Section 8 program, but then you have others come around and offer you twice as much rent… although they’re working in San Francisco. Everyone is getting uprooted up out of here, and they’ve been here all their lives. They’re making it impossible to be here.”
Witnessing the impact of displacement on families in her community motivated Kaye to build on her lifelong aptitude for advocacy as a social worker. As the youngest in a large family, she recalled, “I’ve always been the one pushed to the forefront in crisis situations. All that time I was advocating and didn’t really know it!” Kaye returned to school to get her Associate’s degree in 2011, then quickly went on to get her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology. Soon after, she started a Masters in Social Work program at Cal State University East Bay, which brought her to EBCLC to complete her required training hours.
Showing Up with Heart
Kaye’s advocacy at EBCLC has taken her all over Alameda County, as she’s accompanied her clients to doctors’ appointments, food banks, and social services offices. When a mistake in a veteran client’s service records meant that he was denied medical benefits through the VA, Kaye worked with the agencies to get the error corrected, and found him alternative mental health treatment and medical care until his VA coverage kicked in. When a mother of a newborn baby lost her job, Kaye waited with them at the public assistance agency and persuaded the front desk staff to help grant her client immediate access to nutrition benefits. When a client in crisis wouldn’t return her attorney’s calls, Kaye was able to reach out and make the connection. In all of her EBCLC cases, she worked closely with the legal team and has even applied her psycho-social expertise during court appearances.
“Once a plaintiff’s-side attorney was really intimidating my client, leaning forward and getting close to his face,” Kaye recalled. “I tapped my client and said, ‘Why don’t you lean back, and I’ll lean forward?’” This supportive shift in body language put her client at ease, and he finished testifying with confidence and composure. Trial experiences can be traumatic for clients facing eviction, but having a skilled social worker on their team can lead to excellent outcomes both inside and outside the courtroom.
Kaye graduated in May, and last week, she accepted a social worker position at the Center for Elders’ Independence in Oakland, another great hub for wraparound, holistic services. Her work will include connecting low-income seniors to health benefits, supporting clients through major life transitions, and even supervising her own slate of new MSW students . “Whitney doesn’t know how well she did with me,” Kaye acknowledged with a wink. “I watched the way she supervised me, and I’ll take those skills with me when I leave.”
No matter who walks through her doors, Kaye recognizes that the impacts of her social work practice go far beyond her individual clients. “ When I first meet a client, I’m already doing an assessment but they don’t know it ,” she said. “I look for strengths in them right away, I build the trust first, and then I’m able to get in there and help… you’re not only helping clients on the inside, you’re doing something for the whole community.”