Gloria’s* Story

Gloria’s life lurched to a halt when her identity was stolen


Gloria is a remarkable woman

At age 77, Gloria has lived in the same house in Bayview for over 40 years. Despite being severely sight impaired, she remains an active member of the community by volunteering her time to read to kids in schools, taking modern dancing classes, and swimming on a regular basis. Gloria’s lifestyle came to a halt, however, when she discovered that someone had stolen her identity.

Trouble started with a call from Georgia. On the other end of the line, a creditor told her that she had over $2,000 in overdue bills from Comcast, T-Mobile, and Georgia Power. Shocked, Gloria immediately called her sister Shirley. The two knew they couldn’t afford a private attorney, so they filed a police report and prayed the issue would go away.

It didn’t. Over the course of three years, several other credit cards were opened in Gloria’s name. Bills from department stores, utility companies, and cell phone providers came one after another, shortly followed by threats from creditors. Gloria and Shirley filed police reports, contacted government agencies, and met with fraud agencies. No one could help.

I felt totally violated, Gloria remembers, like I had been stripped naked.

Finally, Shirley decided to pull up Gloria’s credit report to see the total damage. Much to their dismay, the report showed that credit card bills were the least of their worries. Gloria had a default judgement on an unlawful detainer on her record, along with $20,000 in back rent for a house in Atlanta, Georgia. To make matters worse, the credit cards were being used by Gloria’s estranged niece.

“I felt totally violated,” Gloria remembers, “like I had been stripped naked.”

That’s when Shirley told her sister about Open Door Legal. Shirley had worked with our office on a number of legal issues that year and suggested it was time for Gloria to seek an advocate as well. Our attorneys took Gloria’s case right away and began representing her free of charge.

Over the course of the next two years, our team procured the evidence to prove Gloria’s innocence and convinced her creditors to drop all charges. Our team then cleaned her credit report and created a credit freeze so that no one will be able to open a credit line in her name again.

Now five years after she first learned of her identity theft, Gloria is debt free with a clean credit score and a secure identity. “It’s been a tremendous encouragement,” she reports. About a month ago, someone tried to steal Gloria’s identity again. Thanks to the protections that Open Door Legal put in place, they were unsuccessful.

I thank God for Open Door Legal. I could not have afforded a private attorney. The experience was very encouraging.

With a clean record, Gloria has started getting involved in her old hobbies again. She recently joined a book group for people who are sight-impaired and has been enjoying reading books like Outlander and Great Magic. Gloria’s also looking forward to putting her history degree to use again by reading to elementary school kids in the neighborhood.

“I thank God for Open Door Legal. I could not have afforded a private attorney. The experience was very encouraging.”

This story was written by Ivy Sjoholm, Open Door Legal Engagement Associate, August 2016.

*The names and photos have been changed to protect the client’s identity

Ever since childhood, our co-founder Adrian has been dedicated to reducing poverty.

He studied systemic poverty in college and went to work in the field for a few years. Eventually, he had a thesis that legal aid was the most cost-effective way to address poverty in America. He wrote up a business plan and used it to apply to law school. 

The idea was to create the country’s first system of universal access to civil legal representation that ensures everyone can obtain timely, competent legal help for any legal issue, regardless of ability to pay. That had never been done before in the history of the United States.

In law school, he met Virginia, our Programs Director. Together, they co-founded the organization, two weeks after Adrian passed the bar.

When we opened we put a sign in the window, and with just that marketing and almost no other outreach we were overwhelmed with requests for help from people with good cases who had been turned away everywhere else.

Our first year we had revenue of $35,000. We would hand shred documents because a shredder was too expensive. Despite the financial challenges, we were able to work on over 280 cases in everything from housing law to family law to consumer law in the first year alone.

The hours were extreme, the pay was low, and the learning curve was steep. Still, we persisted. We knew that almost everyone we helped was not able to receive services anywhere else. Eventually, we attracted the interest of funders. We tripled our revenue for several years in a row. In 2015, we won the Bay Area Google Impact Challenge, which enabled us to expand even more. In 2019, we secured additional funding from the city that allowed us to open two new centers in the Excelsior and Western Addition.

As of 2020, our staff has grown to 27 full-time employees. We’ve shown that universal access is possible. Now, we plan to scale city-wide, make San Francisco the first city in the country’s history to have universal access to legal help, and become a model for national replication.