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Allen’s Pro Bono Work Helps Lost Boy of Sudan’s Family Move Into Habitat Home

7/17/2015

Adams and Reese Memphis Partner Cannon Allen represented Michael Thokjang, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who became a refugee from the 1983 civil war in Sudan, to help him and his family get approved for a home through the local Habitat for Humanity program.

Thokjang trekked across Sudan to Ethiopia and eventually Kenya as a very small child with thousands of other orphans (mostly boys) fleeing for his life. He arrived in the U.S. in 2002.  He became a U.S. citizen in 2007. He is a husband, and father of four children, works as a custodian and has lived in a low-income apartment for the past eight years. One of his dreams has been to move his family into a home, so he applied to Habitat for Humanity, but he had a problem with his credit that he would have to resolve before Habitat could build a house for him.

In March 2012, Thokjang purchased a used car for $12,000. He paid $3,000 down and financed the balance. Almost immediately after he purchased the car, he suffered a recurrence of a chronic and rare infection (that he contracted in Sudan), was hospitalized and unable to work for several months. He missed several car payments.  He returned the car to the finance company, thinking that if he return the vehicle, he would resolve the debt. The finance company, however,  sold the vehicle at auction for a $4,400 (much less than the $12,000 that he paid for the vehicle) and sent him a deficiency bill for $4,300. Thokjang did not have the money to pay the demand. He saw no way out of this credit hole or to a home where he and his wife Becca could raise their young family.

To add to his trouble, he missed a rent payment to his landlord by a few hours and his landlord (per its policy) immediately sued him for back rent, attorney’s fees and court costs and would not compromise despite his good payment track record. So he had two credit problems that he needed resolved before his could qualify for a Habitat house.

Allen knew Thokjang from church, and after hearing his story, Allen got Adams and Reese to take him on as a pro bono client. Allen contacted the finance company. Initially, it was unwilling to make any significant compromise, but eventually it agreed to settle the car debt for $1,200. One of the debt collectors was very helpful in getting the matter resolved, and Allen was also able to get the landlord to settle his late rent problem.

Habitat finished Thokjang's new home, and he and his family moved in on June 19.