Exciting news from Bread for the City -- the organization has begun construction on a 30,000 square-foot facility on Good Hope Road, more than tripling their footprint in Southeast! The new Southeast Center will provide a variety of new and enhanced services, including primary health care, vision, and dental services; a wellness center; and even a vegetable garden on the roof. The new facility will also feature an expanded jobs center, which will provide job seekers with a new classroom, computer lab, and training space, in addition to offering counseling, mentorship, and long-term support. Bread for the City hopes to open the new and improved Southeast Center in 2020. In the meantime, they plan to continue providing Southeast residents with legal, employment, and social services. Read more about this exciting development in Anacostia here!
The DC Bar Foundation recently announced the 2017 recipients of the Access to Justice Grants Program, which awards grants to DC-based organizations that provide free legal help to low-income DC residents. This year, over $4.5 million was awarded to more than thirty DC-based legal services providers, including more than $3 million in grant funding for providers assisting residents of underserved areas. In 2016, Access to Justice grantees served nearly 23,000 DC residents, 52 percent of whom live in Wards 7 and 8. In addition to the multiple legal services providers receiving grants to assist low-income and vulnerable citizens across DC, several grants will benefit East of the River residents directly. One new grantee for 2017, Tzedek DC, received funding to assist low-income DC residents in debt-related legal matters, including providing community outreach by partnering with the United Planning Organization in Ward 7. Bread for the City received continued funding for its community lawyering work at its offices on Good Hope Road SE. The project’s attorneys work directly with the community to help identify options to tackle issues affecting its residents and, when needed, provide substantial direct representation to the residents. The project focuses on affordable housing, housing conditions, and hiring practices. The grant awarded to Whitman-Walker Health will provide legal representation, counseling, and outreach to people living with HIV/AIDS and other low-income residents East of the River, through lawyers based at its Max Robinson Center in Southeast DC. Whitman-Walker offers free legal aid to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in DC, regardless of HIV status, and to health care patients regardless of sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity. Children’s Law Center received continued funding for its Healthy Together Medical-Legal Partnerships with Unity Healthcare’s Minnesota Avenue clinic in Northeast DC, and with clinics in Southeast DC. In this medical-legal collaboration, the lawyers provide services through the Unity Healthcare clinic and two Southeast clinics of the Children’s National Medical Center, working with families of CNMC patients to identify and resolve non-medical solutions to children’s health issues. Neighborhood Legal Services Program received continued funding to provide neighborhood-based legal aid in the areas of housing, family law, and public benefits through NLSP’s office Ward 7 on Polk Street NE, which will provide low-income residents of this underserved community with free and accessible legal assistance. And the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia received continued public funding to support their Southeast Neighborhood Access Project, which provides clients with access to lawyers who work in two neighborhood offices in Wards 7 and 8.
By Craig Welkener As DC's affordable housing crisis deepens, Beth Harrison and other advocates have created an innovative program for people on the brink of eviction, pushing the boundaries of what has been possible in legal aid. By identifying at-risk tenants even before their eviction notices arrive, the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project is making real help more available than ever before. Although housing laws in the District are complex, the vast majority of individuals facing eviction are too poor to pay for an attorney. Legal services have historically been limited to those with the time to track down a nonprofit lawyer ahead of time, or those who take advantage of last minute, on-the-spot help provided by the Landlord Tenant Court-Based Legal Services Project. That project, which provides housing attorneys on a same-day basis, was funded by the city in 2007. However, that paradigm has begun to change, with the start of the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project. Beth Harrison, the director of the project, has worked in the trenches from the beginning. After earning her law degree from Harvard, Harrison arrived at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia in 2005 as an entry-level housing attorney. At that time, Legal Aid's housing law program consisted of only three full-time staff attorneys, one fellow, and two loaned attorneys from law firms. The work received a boost in 2007, when the DC Council appropriated funds to subsidize legal counsel for the poor. Legal Aid's housing work has grown since then to twelve permanent lawyers and three loaned associates. As Harrison explains, these changes have meant that advocates can serve more clients, and "a big piece of that has been the city's choice to appropriate that funding." But vast gaps remain. The DC Bar Pro Bono Center reports that currently 95% of tenants remain unrepresented, while 90% to 95% of landlords pay for an attorney. Systemic problems call for sustainable solutions. And the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project—run by Legal Aid, Bread for the City, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the DC Bar Pro Bono Center—is futuristic in its design. "We are reviewing all eviction cases as they are filed with the court," Harrison explains. For approximately one out of every seven cases involving subsidized housing, "we send a letter saying we want to represent you." If the tenant accepts the help, a lawyer begins working on their case pro bono—even before the tenant receives an eviction notice. The program began in 2015, and relies on a smorgasbord of local nonprofits and law firm pro bono work to accomplish the mission. By providing help exactly when people can use it the most, the Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project has the potential to truly change the norm of the unrepresented tenant. Perhaps this is the wave of the future. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie recently introduced the Expanding Access to Justice Act of 2016, which would increase funding for similar housing projects. Guaranteeing a broad “right to counsel … in civil cases involving fundamental human needs" is McDuffie’s long-term goal. Harrison is certainly inspired. "The legal work that we do here is incredibly challenging and rich. And the interaction with the clients of course is an ongoing benefit. It's an ongoing inspiration to keep doing the work." Craig Welkener is a volunteer with the Washington Council of Lawyers, a Ward 8 resident, and a Georgetown graduate clerking at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Upcoming programs at DC Public Library East of the River will help District residents with criminal records search for a job. "Ban the Box," a DC law passed in 2014, says that certain employers are not allowed to inquire about criminal background on initial job application forms, and can ask about criminal convictions only after making a conditional offer of employment. A series of interactive workshops, facilitated by lawyers from Bread for the City and Neighborhood Legal Services Program, will teach residents about the new law and will walk participants through the process of filing a complaint if their rights are violated. The next workshop in the series takes place Wednesday, March 18, at 11:00 a.m. at the Anacostia Library on 1800 Good Hope Road SE. Additional Ban the Box workshops, along with more East of the River programming, is planned in the coming months as well.
February has already brought two innovations to DC education, with particular benefits for residents East of the River and in other disadvantaged local communities. First, the DC City Council has teamed up with DC Public Libraries for an exciting new program, called Books from Birth, which provides DC kids with a free book each month from birth until they turn five. The goal is to get children reading as early and often as possible in order to close the "achievement gap" that many disadvantaged children face when starting school. Parents or caregivers can register their children here; books are mailed monthly and the kids can keep the books (and read them as often as they want). Second, and in another effort to address the achievement gap—as well as the "summer learning loss" that many kids experience over summer vacation—DC will implement an extended school year for ten schools starting this fall. The Post reports that the ten elementary and middle schools, nine of which are in Wards 7 and 8, will have 20 extra days added to their school years. The goal is to replace a summer-break model with a year-round model. On extra added days, kids will have opportunities for extra learning both in core subjects and in "specials" such as arts, languages, and physical education. Mayor Bowser praised the initiative, pointing out that by the time the students reach eighth grade, they will have received an extra year's worth of instruction. DC officials hope that the added learning time will help level the playing field, giving children in disadvantaged neighborhoods more opportunities to learn and thrive.
Low-income residents, including many East of the River, spent Snowzilla hunkered down under blankets or huddled around small space heaters. The Post describes the plight of many poor D.C. residents during the recent blizzard. For instance, a woman in Washington Highlands had to leave her oven running, with the door open, because the heat in her apartment has been broken all winter. Lack of heat can result from several circumstances facing low-income residents. D.C.'s Office of People's Counsel reports that low-income residents are often afraid to complain about their heating problems because they are worried that other social services will be discontinued if the city learns of their poor housing conditions. As explained by a housing lawyer with the Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia, many low-income residents don't complain to their landlords for fear of eviction. And some landlords just don't properly maintain their properties—as we have previously discussed. As a result, many of D.C.'s poorest residents who went without heat during this week's historic snowstorm will continue to face similar unsafe conditions throughout the winter, even after the snow has melted.
DC Pro Bono Week is here! Among the events taking place from October 25 to 31 is an opportunity to learn more about the Healthy Together program, a medical-legal partnership between the Children's Law Center and health care facilities in the District. On Thursday, October 29, from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m., visit Unity Health Care's Minnesota Ave NE health center to meet with an attorney from Healthy Together and learn about the ways in which attorneys and health providers are coming together to help families gain access to the legal services they need to improve their children's health outcomes. More information about this site visit, including registration information, is available here.
By Alex Kurtz After an election so close that it almost automatically generated a recount, in April LaRuby May won the Ward 8 seat on the DC City Council. Although she won by a narrow margin, Councilmember May has continued to garner support even after being sworn in; she encourages constituents’ participation in their community with the goal to “see Ward 8 rise.” Her newsletter, The Rise, first published just a month into her term, keeps Ward 8 informed about her work, providing residents with necessary information to actively participate in their community through community meetings and “pop-up” offices. It also helps them meet their own families’ needs, providing public safety contact information and agency response timeframes. It was her work with children, in part, that led May to law school and to her current position. While working for a nonprofit that served children, and teaching them about the importance of giving back to their communities, May was urged by the children to become a lawyer. Their enthusiasm played an important role in her decision to attend law school at the University of the District of Columbia, where her legal education was influenced by a strong commitment to public service. Since then, she has dedicated herself to serving others. Councilmember May assured the children and families that she serves that her actions would be consistent with her words, and she has strived to honor this commitment since entering office. As an ambassador for Ward 8, she and her colleagues at organizations such as the Neighborhood Legal Services Program have worked closely to ensure that constituents are connected with the legal services they need. When May finds a particular legal need that isn’t covered by the available services in the District, she seeks help from law firms. She also recently co-introduced legislation with Councilmember Brandon Todd that, if approved by her colleagues on the Council, would provide seniors with access to legal clinics. May is also the first Councilmember to introduce Pop-Up Office Hours in Ward 8. Her goal is to connect residents with resources from various government agencies in DC, such as onsite emergency benefits and immunizations so that students can start school on time. May believes that the government shouldn’t always expect people to come to them, and that it should bring services to the people who need them most. Alex Kurtz is a student at Washington College and a former intern at Washington Council of Lawyers.
The DC Office of Human Rights is sponsoring a Know Your Rights Workshop at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library on Tuesday, September 22, at 7:00 p.m. The workshop will cover fair housing issues, focusing on discrimination against people with vouchers or other subsidies, discrimination against people of color, people with disabilities, and other protected communities. The Anacostia Neighborhood Library is located at 1800 Good Hope Road SE, and can be reached by Metrobus routes 92, V5, W6, and W8. To request a reasonable accommodation or interpretation for the workshop, please contact Teresa Rainey at (202) 727-5343 / firstname.lastname@example.org by September 11.
By Daniel Choi In a small room at the Francis Gregory library in Ward 7, a staff attorney from the Neighborhood Legal Services Program is ready for a different kind of legal clinic—one targeting the needs of people trying to get jobs. The librarian makes an announcement over the speaker, and in the course of two short hours, seven people stop by for free one-on-one legal consultations about their criminal records, discrimination, wage theft, credit reports, suspended drivers licenses, and other barriers to employment. NLSP launched Jobseeker Legal Clinics in October 2014 as part of its larger Breaking Barriers to Employment project. An NLSP attorney visits DC Public Library branches across the District, including those, like Francis Gregory, located East of the River. NLSP is hoping to reach low-income and homeless library patrons who are seeking work but whose legal barriers are preventing them from obtaining and keeping stable employment. Since the project began, NLSP has held nearly 60 Jobseeker Legal Clinics and 10 know-your-rights presentations, and has performed over 165 individual legal consultations at various branches of the DC Public Library. Jobseeker Clinics will resume in fall 2015. Why hold clinics at the Library? While the overall economy is improving, this is not true for all residents of Washington, DC. According to December 2014 numbers, Wards 6, 7, and 8 had respective unemployment rates of 6.2 percent, 13 percent, and 16.3 percent; the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent during the same period. With the transition from paper to electronic job applications, and the high cost of computer and internet access, more and more unemployed DC residents are turning to the Library as a resource for their job application needs. In fact, according to the American Library Association, nearly two-thirds of libraries provide the only free computer and internet access in their communities. Fortunately, DC Public Library is leading a national trend in transforming library spaces from passive information repositories to active social-service centers. With 25 branches around the city, including seven locations East of the River, the DC Public Library is already in communities where help is needed. The Library recently hired a full-time social worker, and many librarians are already systematically assisting patrons with computer skills, cover letters, and resumes. From the legal end, NLSP provides assistance and resources to librarians and patrons alike. With an official partnership in place, NLSP is trying to connect low-income library patrons with legal and social-service organizations throughout the city. NLSP is interested in expanding our partnerships and involving more pro bono attorneys in the library. Ultimately, the goal is to break down barriers to employment—both systemically and one barrier at a time. For more information about NLSP, the Breaking Barriers to Employment Project, or Jobseeker Legal Clinics, please visit www.nlsp.org. For specific questions, please contact Heather Hodges, Pro Bono Counsel, at email@example.com or (202) 269-5119.
By Domonique Williams and Gavette Richardson On a hot day in late August 2014, a group of law students from Howard and Catholic Universities, along with supervisory attorneys from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, converged east of the river to meet our new clients—a group of tenants in a Congress Heights neighborhood who reported serious health and safety violations in their apartments. These residents had come together as a tenants association and had engaged with the WLCH to stand up for their rights and bring about change. Along with our colleagues at Catholic’s clinic, we were asked to represent seven tenants facing numerous housing code violations. Although we had been given a brief overview of the situation in our clinic classes, nothing quite prepared us for the breadth of violations we encountered, or the stories that the tenants told us about their fight to improve their living conditions. We inspected each unit and found multiple violations— including infestations of mice and bedbugs, hanging and exposed electrical wires, lack of exterior lighting, broken locks on exterior doors, leaks, floods, and more. As the late afternoon turned into evening, our group of students and lawyers stood outside to do a final assessment of the building’s conditions. We found standing water and sewage in a common hallway, rust in tubs, mold on walls, and a building-wide water heater that stopped working every time it rained (the basement flooded, extinguishing the pilot light). We also took note of the rats playing in large trash piles of old couches and dilapidated furniture outside the building, and the lack of proper safety lighting in the back. We were left asking why any property owner would allow residents to live in such conditions. Considering that the communities surrounding Metro stations are some of the most coveted residences in the city, why would any owner allow buildings to fall into such disrepair? The WLCH lawyers suggested a horrifying answer: the worse the living conditions in the buildings, the higher the number of tenants who leave on their own, ultimately making it easier to redevelop the apartment buildings. After notifying the housing provider of the numerous violations and receiving no response, we filed a Housing Conditions suit in Superior Court. At our initial hearing, the housing provider's lawyer admitted that the buildings were unlivable but suggested that, because the buildings were slated for redevelopment, the housing provider should be responsible for making only the most basic repairs—even though the redevelopment could be years away. We objected to the idea that when housing providers hope to raze or sell a building they somehow become exempt from the housing code. Many of our clients spoke up to describe the horrible conditions in their building, and it was their voices that seemed to persuade the judge that enforcement of the housing code should not turn on the housing provider’s redevelopment plans. In the months after our initial hearing, we worked tirelessly for our clients. We sent letters to property managers, participated in court-appointed housing inspections, worked with opposing counsel to organize repair efforts, and represented our clients in court. Ultimately, all of the conditions were abated, but the redevelopment of the area is still pending. In light of this experience, we have also tried to amplify our clients’ voices in the redevelopment process; we recently testified at a Zoning Commission hearing related to the redevelopment. Our experience representing these clients was invaluable. It not only gave us courtroom experience but also opened our eyes to the severity and ubiquity of housing problems faced by DC residents, particularly those in disadvantaged neighborhoods east of the river. We still think about these tenants and wish them the best in their ongoing efforts to protect and enforce their right to safe housing. Domonique Williams and Gavette Richardson are rising third-year law students at the Howard University School of Law. They represented tenants from the Congress Heights neighborhood in housing litigation as part of their work with Howard’s Fair Housing Clinic.
A heartwarming, summer-reading true story about free books being put into the hands and homes of children in Anacostia. Book vending machines in three locations East of the River are providing kids with their choice of books to enjoy over the break, with the goal of handing out 100,000 books by summer's end.
Practicing Public Interest Law East of the Anacostia River: 5th Annual Summer Panel Discussion with the East of the River Casehandlers Wednesday, July 29, 2015 12:30 pm - 2 pm Deanwood Neighborhood Library 1350 49th Street, NE Washington DC, 20019 Metro: Deanwood (Orange Line) The Program The East of the River Casehandlers group invites all legal interns, summer associates, law students and pro bono attorneys to come find out more about practicing public interest law east of the Anacostia River. This informal panel discussion will feature attorneys from DC legal services providers that serve the low-income residents of these diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. Imoni Washington from the DC Bar Foundation will join us after the provider panel to discuss the Loan Repayment Assistance Program for public interest lawyers working in the District and the recent grants the DCBF has made to legal services providers east of the river. We will also have information available on fall student internship and pro bono opportunities with EOTR legal services providers. Panelists We anticipate having panelists this year from Whitman Walker Health, NLSP, Bread for the City, the Public Defender Service, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Washington Lawyers' Committee, Childrens Law Center, Covington & Burling LLP, and more. Registration To register, contact Heather Hodges at (202) 269-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This program is intended to be highly interactive and driven by your questions. We encourage you to submit any questions you have with your registration request. About Us The East of the River Casehandlers meet every three months at the Anacostia Library to share program information and discuss strategies for dealing with issues of common concern to our low-income clients in Wards 7 and 8. We also conduct legal information programs for community members and legal services attorneys. If you would like to join our listserv, please send an email to EastoftheRiverLawyersemail@example.com.
The East of the River Casehandlers is a group of legal services providers, law professors/students, and pro bono lawyers who meet every three months at the Anacostia Library to share program information and discuss strategies for dealing with issues of common concern to our low-income clients in Wards 7 and 8. We also conduct legal information programs for community members and legal services attorneys. The group welcomes guest speakers who would like to provide information or training on programs and services that you provide to low-income residents of Wards 7 and 8. Please email or call Heather Hodges if you would like to attend or be added to the agenda. Date: Friday, June 26, 2015 Time: 10 am to 11 am Place: Anacostia Neighborhood Library (1800 Good Hope Road, SE) Contact: Heather L. Hodges Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia 680 Rhode Island Avenue, NE Washington, DC 20002 (202) 269-5100
By Caroline Fleming Other than a few projects in school, Carla Chambers didn’t have much experience volunteering when she contacted the DC Employment Justice Center. A trained paralegal, Carla sought to volunteer with the DCEJC as a way to expand her experience and knowledge while simultaneously helping others. It ended up becoming one of the most rewarding experiences of her professional life. Carla has served as a DCEJC intake volunteer since June 2014, and she is the primary point of contact with clients seeking help with employment problems. She meets with clients, learns about their workplace issues, and consults with DCEJC’s volunteer attorneys to provide the best advice for each client’s situation. Carla has helped workers with their employment problems but has also noticed that these issues are “very personal in terms of the pride people have in working and wanting to continue to work.” Apart from the professional experience she’s gained in employment law, Carla has been moved by what she calls the “huge responsibility to thoroughly tell my clients’ stories.” Carla has been struck most by the dignity and work ethic of the individuals who seek help from DCEJC. Although her clients have a wide range of employment issues, Carla has noticed a trend: they are all “determined to resolve their issues and move on with their working lives.” Carla encourages everyone to take time to volunteer. In addition to learning new skills and growing professionally, she has discovered the rewards of helping workers solve their employment problems and move forward. Wherever her career takes her, Carla plans to continue volunteering to help people who “just need a little advice and help through the process, whatever the process is.” To learn more, or to volunteer for the Workers’ Rights Clinics sponsored by the DCEJC, email the Clinic Coordinator or visit the Volunteer Page.
By Caroline Fleming Recognizing that workers living East of the River needed greater access to their services, last September the DC Employment Justice Center launched an expanded monthly clinic in Fairlawn. The clinic, which had previously been open every other Friday morning, is now open to clients on one Saturday each month. The clinic offers help with a full range of issues addressed by the DCEJC, including Family and Medical Leave Act violations, unpaid wages and overtime, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, unlawful discrimination and harassment, and wrongful termination. As the DCEJC's Executive Director Barbra Kavanaugh explained, clients East of the River were finding the weekday-only clinic difficult to fit into their busy schedules. The DCEJC moved the clinic to Saturdays as a way to provide greater access for residents. Because the need for workplace justice continues to grow, the DCEJC has also introduced a second clinic with a new partner, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. This clinic takes place during the week, allowing workers whose schedules don’t permit Saturday visits to receive employment law assistance as well. The schedule changes were spurred by the DCEJC’s interest in community lawyering. The expanded access shows that the DCEJC is committed to helping the East of the River community ensure that workplace justice is fully available. To learn more, or to volunteer for the workers’ rights clinics sponsored by the DCEJC, email the Clinic Coordinator or visit their volunteering page. The DCEJC weekend clinic takes place on the last Saturday of each month, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Fairlawn office of long-time DCEJC partner Bread for the City (1640 Good Hope Road, SE). The DCEJC/NLSP clinic takes place on the first and third Friday afternoons of each month, from noon to 3:00 p.m., at 2811 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.
With the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray, police-community relations have come under increasing scrutiny, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods such as those East of the River where trust has disintegrated between officers and residents. The Post recently profiled Lieutenant Teresa Brown, a District native and long-time D.C. police officer who's working to bring back community policing in Ward Seven. Brown is focusing on reaching out to community members to get to know her neighborhood and rebuild some of that trust. "We gotta build that trust on the front end. Treat everyone like humans, like they could be your mamma or your brother.” Our recent three-part Racial Justice Series addressed many of these same issues, focusing on how the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police has highlighted a growing need for lawyers to help eradicate discrimination and violence against people of color and build an inclusive society that enables everyone to succeed.
Tomorrow, April 28, is the special election to fill the Ward 8 Council seat vacated by the death of Marion Barry. WUSA has a handy guide to polling hours (7am to 6pm), locations, and candidates. Meanwhile, the Post's early coverage focuses on the possibility that Barry's legacy will be carried on by his son, Marion Christopher Barry, who is one of the 13 candidates standing for election.