Sue Augustus, Class of 1982
Nationally recognized advocate for the homeless
For the past thirty years, Sue Augustus has dedicated her legal career to representing and advocating the interests of homeless people. She has been the Chief Operating Officer at Health and Disability Advocates (HDA) since 2010 and prior to that, she spent eight years with the Corporation for Supportive Housing and six years as the Deputy Director for HDA. Earlier in her career, Augustus worked for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, the Legal Aid Society of Dayton and the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender. She helped introduce the SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) initiative in Illinois and is a founding mother of Deborah’s Place, which started in 1985 as a response to the appearance of women who were homeless in Chicago. Augustus is also a member of the 2004 class of Leadership Greater Chicago, and a current board member of Inner Voice.
Describe your career path. What steps did you take to get where you are today?
Meandering. I started out at the Office of the State Appellate Defender which was a great experience - I argued 4 cases in the Illinois Supreme Court before I was out of law school two years; went into private practice briefly; then made the switch to civil legal services. My career has always followed the path of helping people who have challenges accessing justice, whether it is in a criminal case or a civil case.
What was the greatest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
It was probably when I decided to take a job with a legal aid organization when I had spent the first 8 years of my career in criminal defense. I was nervous, but I had a good mentor in a paralegal at the organization who helped me navigate the Social Security system for the first time. I also started to do policy work for the first time and found that I really liked it and was good at it.
What would people find the most surprising about you?
I was a founding mother of Deborah's Place, which started in 1985 in response to the appearance of women who were homeless on the streets of Chicago. We wanted to provide shelter and meals and hope. Today the organization is an incredible organization providing permanent housing and services to hundreds of women; unfortunately, we had hoped that the organization would not be around for such a long time. We have a long way to go to eradicate the causes of homelessness.
What advice would you give to young attorneys just starting out today?
Follow your passion and stretch yourself. If something feels like it is beyond your abilities, go for it. You won't be disappointed if you take the leap; you will be if you don't. And give back to your community by serving on boards of non-profits.
How did Chicago-Kent prepare you for your present success?
I really enjoyed my tenure in the legal clinic and it helped me get over my fear of public speaking as I had to appear before judges with my 711 license, I had to interview witnesses, and I got the opportunity to see how the practice of criminal defense really worked.