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February 16, 2024

Aligning a Professional Career with Personal Values: A Conversation with Patty Mullahy Fugere

By Ethan Kaplan (B'25)

On January 23, 2024, students in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course taught by Professor John Monahan gained valuable insights during a fascinating conversation with Patty Mullahy Fugere (C’81, L’84), the former executive director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

Ms. Fugere represents someone who has aligned her career with her personal values. In the conversation, she specifically mentioned how her advocacy derives itself from her “true north.” Born in Pennsylvania and growing up attending Catholic school in New Jersey, Ms. Fugere has a family that emphasizes faith in all facets of life, ultimately manifesting itself in diligent service for others. Therefore, when she came to Washington, DC, to attend Georgetown University as an undergraduate, she immediately found her service outlet in supporting homeless DC residents.

Later, Ms. Fugere attended Georgetown Law, where she had the blessing of working with the three preeminent legal attorneys in the country regarding homelessness. This luck allowed her to pursue pro-bono work to find her own niche within the DC community. After confirming her intent on serving the homeless throughout her career, Ms. Fugere became aware of a new development from the DC Bar: an ad-hoc committee focused on solving previously unaddressed issues relating to legal representation for the homeless. By approaching and communicating with the homeless in their own environment, Ms. Fugere was able to reach a population that feared the institution that put them into the homeless state they currently experience. This experience eventually led to the creation of Ms. Fugere’s Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

A key issue brought up during the event surrounded homelessness in its contemporary form. Ms. Fugere saw dramatic cuts in funding for affordable housing during the Reagan administration, the deinstitutionalization of mental health without adding needed community resources, and the 1980 crack cocaine epidemic leading to the incarceration of significant numbers of young Black men as some of the main reasons why homelessness has become so pervasive.

Ms. Fugere emphasized how the homeless should not be seen as a problem themselves. Unfortunately, many Americans view the homeless community through a hierarchy–those unhoused due to natural disasters taking precedence over others. After Hurricane Katrina, DC opened up the armory building as a shelter for those displaced by the storm, and there was extreme support since the homeless were considered victims. Meanwhile, previously homeless clients were being sheltered in a corner of DC, not even able to get diapers because they were blamed for their situation.

Now, the legal clinic has about 15 full-time staff members and thousands of attorneys volunteering their time to serve disadvantaged DC residents. With a budget of $2 million and multiple services outside of direct representation, the clinic is effectively attempting to improve the lives and opportunities of those unfortunate enough to have lost their home.

The class was extremely grateful for Ms. Fugere’s time, and we are all inspired to consider homelessness with more empathy, compassion, and advocacy in the future.

Ethan Kaplan (B'25) is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business studying finance and accounting. He is a student in the Conversations in Health: Global to Local course.