Legal Services = Basic Needs

Extra! Extra! Read All About it!
Extra! Extra! Read All About it!

Earlier today the United Way of the Midlands released their Community-Needs Assessment Report online at http://uway.org/facing_facts/.

While the report is specific to Richland and Lexington Counties, the issues highlighted in the report may be universal for people living in poverty. According to the report:

Many households in our community daily struggle to pay for housing, utilities, food, clothing and legal help.

While many of us recognize shelter and food as basic necessities, we may not associate legal help as one. And, that’s the legal community’s fault for not publicizing this fact.

For people living in poverty, legal services is often their lifeline. As I note often, as a general rule (there are always exceptions), people do not seek legal assistance when all is going well.

  • In the criminal justice arena someone is either the victim of a crime or is accused of perpetrating the crime.
  • In civil legal services, it’s very similar. Someone has been wronged or someone receives a complaint for wrongdoing. This can be contractual – landlord/tenant, debt repayment/collections, utilities, etc. It can be in other forms – divorce, child support, child custody, government benefits, etc.

For those of us working in civil legal services, this is second-nature.

And we’re glad that others now recognize it.

Thanks to United Way of the Midlands for collecting this data and publishing the report!

-RFW

Don’t Get Hurled Away by a Hurricane!

Hurricane 09

Hurricane season is here! (June 1-November 30) 

A hurricane can have potentially long lasting and devastating effects if you are caught unprepared.  It is not difficult to take steps before a hurricane hits to protect you and your home, but dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane when you did not prepare can be a long painful process.  Don’t wait until a hurricane is on its way toward your home town; take the time now to secure the safety of you and your family so you are not caught off-guard by a hurricane this season.  In South Carolina, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division is a great place to start to prepare for a disaster.

Steps to take before a hurricane hits (FEMA):

  1. Secure your home with permanent storm shutters or plywood.
  2. Make sure your roof is securely fastened to the frame structure of your home.
  3. Trim trees and shrubs.
  4. Clean out rain gutters and downspouts.
  5. If you have a boat, secure it.
  6. Build or determine which room in your house is the most secure in case of an emergency.
  7. Make copies of your personal records including Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, Passport, etc.  Give the copies to relatives in another state or keep them stored electronically where they can be accessed from anywhere.

How to get help after a hurricane hits (National Disaster Legal Aid):

  1. A list of local organizations that can help can be found at www.lawhelp.org
  2. If you lose your ID, passport, Social Security card, or other important documents you can find out how to replace them at www.uslegalforms.com/life-documents.htm
  3. Sometimes homes are destroyed or inaccessible in the wake of a hurricane and families are not able to return home.  The US Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Public and Indian Housing and FEMA have programs that provide temporary housing.
  4. Families that are displaced due to hurricane might have problems finding employment.  The Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program gives assistance through unemployment benefits.  You cannot be eligible for these benefits if you already receive unemployment.  Visit their website for eligibility requirements.
  5. If you are displaced because of a hurricane then your children will need to find a temporary school to meet their education needs.  www.serve.org/nche/downloads/dis_hb/parents.pdf.
  6. Disaster food stamps assistance is available in the wake of a hurricane.
  7. Legal aid attorneys can help with landlord/tenant issues, contractor disputes, insurance issues and more.
  8. Other websites that can help in disaster preparedness:
    1. www.redcross.org
    2. www.abanet.org/disaster
    3. www.nilc.org/disaster_assistance/index.htm

-Allie

Three Dog Night or Kool and the Gang?

Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music. OR. Celebrate good times, come on.

The nation is experiencing a financial meltdown. People are losing their jobs in record numbers. Legal Service organizations and normally stable law firms are experiencing reductions or freezes in their workforce, many for the first time ever. And soon we’ll whisk in a new year.

This is definitely not the time to celebrate, right? Wrong.

Wait, what?

It’s exactly the time for us to celebrate what so many of us ARE accomplishing. This is the time for us to rally behind each other and support one another.

Why?

Because the numbers don’t lie. Recently I asked South Carolina Legal Services whether the current crisis had any effect on the requests for service they had received. Here is what I received:

Comparison figures for applicants seeking SCLS services:

 

Jan. 1, 2007 – Dec. 15, 2007                Jan.1, 2008 – Dec. 15, 2008

Cases Accepted          7,281                       Cases Accepted          8,375 ( +1,094)

Cases Denied             3,395                         Cases Denied              3,249 ( -149)

TOTAL CASES             10,676                      TOTAL CASES             11,624 ( + 948)

 

  That’s almost a thousand more applicants coming through SCLS intake this year-to-date as compared to the same period last year.

 

There is also an increase in the consumer and employment cases SCLS closed this year:

 

2007 closed cases              2008 closed cases (12/15/08)        Difference

 Bankruptcy-275                         Bankruptcy-315                                       +40 cases

Collect’ n (incl Repo.)-265      Collect’n-277                                             +12 cases

Total Consumer-737                 Total Consumer-792                              +55 cases

 

Employment cases-117           Employment cases-273                        +156 cases

 

Housing-952                                 Housing -780                                            -172 cases

  

There’s even more difference in cases ACCEPTED:

 

2007 (Jan – Dec 15)                    2008 (Jan – Dec 15)              Difference

 Bankruptcy                    316              448                                                    +132

Total Consumer           812                1,075                                                +263

 

Total Employment      214                410                                                    +196

 

Total Housing                1,049            976                                                    -73(no HUD counseling grant in 2008)        

  

Additionally, there were 2,654 more calls answered at the SCLS Call Center through November 2008 over the same period last year.

 

About this time, you’re probably thinking, why celebrate? Doesn’t this simply confirm what everyone has been saying – we’re in a recession; more people need legal assistance; and legal assistance resources are being cut in record numbers. And you’re right, these numbers ARE horrific. And we could wallow. BUT let’s take a moment to recognize the good that HAS been done this year.

 

SCLS assisted 8,375 new clients this year. That’s 8,375 people who were given hope. That’s 8,375 people who probably were wondering what they would do if they lost their home, their job, their medical benefits. That’s 8.375 people whose request was taken seriously. That’s 8,375 people who received access to justice.

 

Sure, it’s likely that not all of the 8,375 individuals won their cases. But it is likely that having someone to listen to them and fight for their civil rights meant something incredible for every one of those 8,375 individuals.

 

You’ve had an opportunity to read about some of those individuals in this blog and I hope to continue to share their stories.

 

And I hope that your holiday is filled with peace and that you take a moment to celebrate the successes of South Carolina Legal Services, the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono volunteer attorneys, and everyone else who has been involved in the worthy cause to make access to justice a reality for all South Carolinians, regardless of their financial status.

 

I will be traveling next week and although I’ll attempt to check in, I may be “off the grid.”  If so, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, a Meaningful Kwanzaa and peace until then.

 

-RFW