Advocate for Immigrants Retires from Homeless Advocacy Project

By Teresa Friend, Homeless Advocacy Project

Ramona Holguin, long-time supervising attorney at the Homeless Advocacy Project (HAP) of the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC), retired at the end of February.  She started at HAP in 1993, and created a key component of HAP’s services to members of the San Francisco homeless community — those who are immigrants.  She identified an unmet need in the community, and almost single-handedly met that need for over 23 years. Ramona became an incredibly well-respected community institution, and she will be very much missed.

HAP's Julie Rosenthal with Ramona Holguin

HAP’s Julie Rosenthal with Ramona Holguin

Ramona notes that her earliest job was picking cotton near her childhood home in New Mexico. In addition to several other interesting jobs in her youth, she also spent two years in the convent, before opting for a life of more secular adventure. She enjoyed a job at the Laboratory of Social Relations at Harvard University, but finding the cold of Cambridge unbearable, she moved to Mexico City, where she received her BA in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of the Americas.

Teresa Friend, Ramona Holguin and Laura Chiera

Teresa Friend of HAP with Ramona Holguin and Laura Chiera, Executive Director of Legal Assistance to the Elderly

Since her arrival in California in 1967, she has had a long history as an advocate and attorney.   She spent more than a decade working with the United Farm Workers in the late 60s and 70s, where among many roles, she coordinated the building of a retirement home in Delano for the original Filipino farmworker strikers.  In 1979, she was ready for a change in direction, and entered law school. She graduated from Golden Gate University Law School in 1982, but her attorney career was put on hold while she cared for her mother, who had had a stroke.  She worked all the while as an immigration paralegal in Salinas, assisting hundreds of farmworkers covered under the amnesty provisions of the mid-1980s immigration reforms.

In 1990, Ramona returned to the Bay Area, where she spent three years doing housing law at La Raza Central Legal, before joining the HAP staff.  She has retained her connection to the farmworkers movement, as a close friend of Dolores Huerta.  She accompanied Huerta to the White House in 2012 when President Obama presented her with the Medal of Freedom.

During her years at HAP, Ramona handled over 7,000 cases, for over 3,500 different clients.  She has served more HAP clients than anyone in the history of the Homeless Advocacy Project. She received a statewide Award of Merit from the Legal Aid Association of California; she was named Homeless Service Provider of the Month by the Local Homeless Coordinating Board,; she was given the Unsung Hero Award from the Hispanic Business and Education Network; and she was the first recipient of the James Brosnahan Fellowship at JDC.

Ramona’s clients express the highest regard and deepest gratitude for her assistance, which has in many cases been life-changing.  Similarly, community advocates sing her praises, and worry that she is irreplaceable.   She plans to return to New Mexico to live, although she may seek out warmer climes when the winters get too cold!

To learn more about the work of the Homeless Advocacy Project, visit www.sfbar.org/hap.

More photos from the party can be found on the Justice & Diversity Center’s Legal Services page on Facebook.