Dmitri Helps Save His Client’s Housing

Dmitri Pikman 2Dmitri Pikman, Esq.
Connected with ALRP since 2011
Staff Attorney

When ALRP Staff Attorney Dmitri Pikman’s elderly client was in danger of being evicted, he knew it was going to take more than a persuasive letter to solve his client’s problems. “In addition to being HIV+ the client had a host of other disabilities,” said Dmitri. “He’d been living in his apartment building for over twenty years, and his housing was in jeopardy because the landlord needed to do building-wide pest control measures and the client was physically unable to comply.”

Dmitri successfully requested a reasonable accommodation of the client’s disability—in this case, more time to comply with the pest control efforts. Then he got in touch with San Francisco’s Adult Protective Services and teamed up with a social worker. “She was amazing,” he said. “She connected the client to In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). We all worked together and got cleaners to come in and prepare the unit, which included moving furniture. The best part is that he wasn’t connected to any services before this happened, and now he’s getting consistent help from IHSS.”

Because Dmitri spends about two-thirds of his workdays on housing issues, he’s built up an expertise that allows him to come up with creative and timely solutions to clients’ problems. “A lot is at stake for our clients,” he said. “Becoming homeless is absolutely disastrous to their health, so maintaining their housing is vital. Cases move through the courts really quickly—it can be as little as six weeks from the time an eviction notice is given until the time the Sheriff can come out. And what you hear is true—the housing market is booming, rents are higher than ever, and evictions are happening at a higher rate.”

Dmitri spends the balance of his time working on issues such as employment, estate planning, public benefits and confidentiality. “We have the capacity to provide short-term legal assistance in these areas in house with our staff attorneys and our fabulous law clerks,” he said, “but we refer cases out to our Panel attorneys for more extensive representation in these issues.”

Dmitri’s road to becoming a San Francisco public interest attorney was quite literally a long one. He was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but his parents moved to Israel after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when he was seven (“My mom is a worrier”). The family never quite fit in in Israel, and moved to Montreal when Dmitri was 14 (“We hated Montreal—too cold and snowy”) and then moved again to Los Angeles, where they happily settled for the long-term. Dmitri earned his BA in political science at UCLA and considered a master’s degree in human sexuality, but he decided a career in law would be a better match. He’s the first and only member of his extended family to attend graduate school.

“I specifically wanted to be a public interest attorney,” he said, “which is part of why I went to Hastings School of Law, because of their great public interest law program. I’d always loved writing and I thought that being an attorney was a great way to combine that with helping people.”

Dmitri’s sensitivity and positive approach have helped him gain the trust of his clients and reduce their stress level, despite the sometimes overwhelming personal, medical and legal issues they face. One client noted on their satisfaction survey that Dmitri helped to restore his faith in humanity. “It’s true that people are calling for our services because things aren’t going well and they’re dealing with stressors,” he said, “but I’m able to manage my own stress because ultimately, I get to help many clients obtain a much better outcome. The folks I work with are amazing—we have a great team at ALRP. And my clients are awesome and appreciative. I like what I do. I feel satisfied with my day when it’s time to leave.”

Dmitri sees the long-term impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic every day at work. “People with HIV/AIDS are living with disabilities now rather than dying of AIDS,” he said. “That’s a big improvement, but it also means that the need for ALRP’s services is broader than it was 25 years ago. Now folks need to keep their housing, medications, benefits, insurance and estate planning in order. There aren’t many agencies out there that can help on a pro bono basis with all of that, and no one in the City does what we do. If we weren’t here, where would our clients go?”