Gabriela Ines Sevilla, Esq., a lawyer and advocate for people experiencing homelessness, died Oct. 10, 2022 at the age of 29.
Sevilla was an attorney at the National Homelessness Law Center specializing in work to end youth homelessness. She was passionate about her job and worked on reforming curfew and truancy laws, according to the law center.
“Gabi was a ‘shooting star,’ accomplishing more in her short life than many do in decades,” the law center said in a statement on Oct. 11.
Sevilla joined the law center in 2021 and worked on legislation promoting higher education for youth experiencing homelessness. She used her life experiences to inform her advocacy work.
Originally from Newark, N.J., Sevilla graduated from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in 2015, according to Sevilla’s LinkedIn profile. Sevilla later came to Washington to study at the Howard University School of Law, where she was awarded Law Student of the Year in 2019.
During her time at Rutgers, her family was evicted, making graduating challenging, Sevilla told ABC News in March 2022.
Sevilla received an extended stay at the Rutgers University dorms which she said helped her to figure things out. Sevilla used her experience to speak about the need for more tuition waivers across the United States during her time at the law center.
“If we give youth experiencing homelessness a little support to go to college and get that education, it can quite literally save money on shelters, on services, on public benefit programing,” said Sevilla to ABC News.
Valerie Schneide, director of the Clinical Law Center said Sevilla was a “bright light” in a tweet put out by Howard University School of Law.
“As a professor, I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but every once in a while, I have a student who is so compelling that it’s hard to resist that label,” Schneider said.
Natalie Muñoz, a Ph.D. student at Howard University who met Sevilla when their time overlapped at the university, posted a tribute to her on Twitter on Oct. 12. Muñoz described how Sevilla’s experiences affected her passions and career. “She overcame homelessness as a youth and decided that she would do everything in her power to combat homelessness in America,” Muñoz said in a tweet.
In one of her efforts, Sevilla created a fellowship with Equal Justice Works to give legal advice to people trying to secure benefits. Sevilla’s family relied on Supplemental Security Insurance and she knew how important those benefits could be to a family.
“I am passionate about this issue because I know what it is like to not have a place to call home and I see myself when I serve my clients,” Sevilla said in 2019 according to a site explaining the fellowship.
Sevilla’s efforts to fight homelessness extended beyond her work at the law center and fellowship. She also supported people experiencing homelessness in her free time.
In 2019, Sevilla captured media attention when she connected with a couple facing homelessness and proceeded to support them through a GoFundMe page.
Monica Diaz and Pete Etheridge received more than $40,000 from the fund and began renting a home. Sevilla’s efforts were covered by The Washington Post, the DCist, Street Sense Media and other media outlets.
Sevilla also supported the couple through social media and personal outreach.
“She actually has done a lot for me,” Diaz said to Street Sense Media in 2019. “She’s printed out resumes, she’s got me [and Pete] lifeline phones, she’s bought me clothing for interviews, food, dog food, shoes. Gabi has done a lot.”
Sevilla used her previous experiences to make meaningful connections with people. She and Diaz connected quickly after meeting at an encampment cleanup because of what they had in common, said Sevilla.
“I know what it’s like to not have family to support you, to not be a kid, to not have a childhood, just go from baby to adult,” Sevilla said to Street Sense Media in 2019.
Jason Iglesias, who met Sevilla while they were both in law school, posted on Twitter after her death.
“I knew she was going to be an incredible person,” Iglesias said in a tweet. “Her passion, her advocacy and most importantly her kindness is what allowed her to have such an impact on so many people in her life.”