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Joining Forces To Bring Legal Services East Of The River

Joining Forces to Bring Legal Services East of the River

The unique clinic partnership between the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia (“Legal Aid”) has had an unparalleled impact on the community East of the Anacostia River. After originally joining forces in Southwest D.C. in 2013, Legal Aid and Kirkland decided in 2015 to move the intake clinic to Legal Aid’s Southeast office at the Anacostia Professional Building, widely known in the community as “the Big Chair.” The decision to move was motivated by a desire to increase resources to address the ever-growing legal needs observed east of the Anacostia River, where one in three residents lives in poverty, and half in “deep poverty” (i.e., incomes at or below 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines). The clinic helps residents with legal issues related to housing, family law, domestic violence, public benefits, and consumer law. The clinic is a major pro bono initiative of Kirkland’s D.C. office, with firm attorneys staffing weekly intake hours at Legal Aid’s office at the Big Chair and going on to represent clients in a variety of cases. In 2018 alone, Kirkland attorneys spent 2,600 hours conducting intake interviews and providing representation for clients referred from Legal Aid.  Over the past six years, Kirkland has provided full representation in 64 matters referred from Legal Aid. “We really value the opportunity to serve this community and are proud to work so closely with Legal Aid. It’s been an incredibly impactful project and we hope to continue it for a long time to come,” said Ruchi Jain, Pro Bono Counsel at Kirkland’s D.C. office. The benefits of this partnership are felt by everyone involved. Residents and neighbors are able to access legal services in the community where they live. Participating Kirkland attorneys express that their hands-on experiences conducting intake interviews are some of the most rewarding interactions they have all year, and Legal Aid can expand its reach in an area of highly-concentrated poverty. “Kirkland’s sustained commitment of resources – both attorney/staff time and ongoing financial support – has made an immeasurable impact on our ability to make justice real for individuals and families living East of the River," said Jodi Feldman, who heads up Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Program. A shining example of the efficacy of this partnership is the case of Wanda Alston. Ms. Alston came to Legal Aid’s SE office for help and met with a Kirkland attorney about a housing issue. She had received a voucher that covered a portion of her monthly rent, but the D.C. Housing Authority had informed her that they were terminating their contract with her landlords, so she could no longer use her voucher to rent her apartment. Ms. Alston’s apartment had flooded twice, and the landlords had failed to properly remediate mold and mildew issues, resulting in failed inspections by the Housing Authority and exacerbating Ms. Alston’s asthma.  The building also had an unaddressed bedbug infestation, and this slew of problems, through no fault of the tenants, was jeopardizing access to this affordable housing opportunity. Kirkland associates Patrick Brown and Paul Suitter decided to represent Ms. Alston in a civil suit against her landlords for damages resulting from gross negligence and violations of the Fair Housing Act, alleging that that the landlords had known of the poor conditions in Ms. Alston’s apartment since the time they had purchased the building and had ignored requests to fix the problems. After almost a year of litigation, Ms. Alston agreed to a settlement that provided the resources she needed to rent a new apartment in a different building. The perseverance, creativity, and dedication of the Kirkland team was crucial in obtaining this victory for Ms. Alston, and the partnership between Kirkland and Legal Aid is key in continuing to provide this type of legal assistance to EOTR residents. By Jessalyn Schwartz, co-editor of East of the River Profiles Blog. Thank you to Hiba Abdallah for her contributions to this article.       

TZEDEK DC: Legal Help For People In Debt

TZEDEK DC: Legal Help for People in Debt

by Emily Simmons, Washington Council of Lawyers board member Tzedek DC is a relatively new organization, but its mission draws on a very old Jewish teaching: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” meaning “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” While Tzedek DC only opened its doors in February 2017, volunteers had already spent two years interviewing DC residents about the barriers to economic and social stability. They found that debt collection issues, including lawsuits and impaired credit, were major hurdles for an overwhelming number of residents, especially in Wards 7 & 8.  Founder Ariel Levinson-Waldman explains that debt-related crises -- and the fact that income debt collection lawsuits are filed disproportionately against African-American and Latinx households -- contribute to the deep stratification of wealth along racial lines in DC. He notes that, according to the Urban Institute, white households in DC have a net worth 81 times greater than Black households. Tzedek DC seeks to help change these trends by addressing debt issues through a civil rights lens and by engaging in three strategies to increase access to assistance navigating financial problems. First, the organization provides free legal assistance to residents across the District, with a focus on the community East of the River. These services focus on two areas: debt collection cases in court and improving credit and credit reports.  Thus far, Tzedek DC has served over 800 families in these efforts. The organization also provides guidance on where to go for individuals on the verge of being sued or who have already been issued default judgments.  Second, in partnership with key community organizations, Tzedek DC engages in outreach and education to empower residents, including a focus on immigrant community members who may be deterred from defending themselves in civil debt cases due to their lack of legal immigration status. Tzedek DC engages partners and preexisting programs that already have relationships with community members to increase impact.  Finally, Tzedek DC advocates for policy and systemic reform, including arguing against harsh penalties for incurring government debt. To achieve all of their goals with a small staff, the organization has trained over 75 volunteer lawyers. They have also started an Emerging Leaders Committee, co-chaired by Leah Schloss, Senior Associate at WilmerHale, and Professor Matthew Bruckner of Howard Law, to connect newer lawyers and other DC professionals who are interested in getting involved.  Tzedek DC is headquartered at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, where law students regularly volunteer or intern with the organization.  To learn more or to volunteer, visit https://www.tzedekdc.org/.  

Safe Sisters Circle: A Welcoming Place

Safe Sisters Circle: A Welcoming Place

By Ariana Gibbs “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Those are the words of Malcolm X, spoken in 1962. And it is the sentiment that motivated Alana Brown to found The Safe Sisters Circle. Founded in 2018, The Safe Sisters Circle is an organization that provides support and healing to black women survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. Brown, who is originally from Washington, D.C., noticed throughout her work as a prosecutor and later, as an advocate for survivors, there often existed a cultural disconnect between legal service providers and clients. Brown noticed that many lawyers did not look like the clients they served. Moreover, “It occurred to me, despite the growing number of reports of domestic and sexual violence reported among black women, few resources existed which aimed specifically to support and help black women suffering from that violence. I decided something should be done to remedy that,” says Brown. Hence, The Safe Sisters Circle was created. “It was important to me, in founding The Safe Sisters Circle, that the organization be a space for marginalized women to feel comfortable and safe within their own community,” says Brown. The Safe Sisters Circle’s services are provided in the heart of Ward 8 in the East of the River community. Of the community that lives in Ward 7 and 8, 95% are black. Additionally, Wards 7 and 8 have the highest rates of domestic violence in the District. By being embedded in the community, Brown intends for The Safe Sisters Circle to be a known safe haven within the neighborhood. “All women, regardless of race or ethnicity, are invited. This is a safe space for all survivors to receive support, be empowered, and to connect with other survivors in their community,” says Brown. The Safe Sisters Circle provides free legal representation to survivors in Civil Protection Order hearings, family law cases, and cases related to survivors’ underlying abuse. To learn more about the organization, or to volunteer, visit www.safesisterscircle.org. or contact info@safesisterscirlce.org. All are welcome! Ariana Gibbs is a member of the East of the River Profiles committee.

“Mapping Eviction”: The Eviction Lab Highlights The Eviction Epidemic With Exhibit And Discussion At The National Building Museum

“Mapping Eviction”: The Eviction Lab Highlights the Eviction Epidemic with Exhibit and Discussion at the National Building Museum

On January 24, James Hendrickson and Lavar Edmonds, of the Eviction Lab, delivered a presentation on the organization’s work, which has established the first dataset and research tool focused on eviction rates in the United States. The talk was held at the National Building Museum, which currently features the “Evicted” exhibit, exploring the causes and impact of evictions through photographs and stories reflecting the affordable housing crisis, on display through May 19, 2019. The Eviction Lab plans to create a national, centralized database with information they are still gathering, but encourages interested parties to utilize their available studies and research to increase awareness of the housing crisis. All of their data and related work is available for download, free of charge, on their website.
Martha’s Table And Lyft Join Forces To Provide Grocery Access To Residents East Of The River

Martha’s Table and Lyft Join Forces to Provide Grocery Access to Residents East of the River

By Jessalyn Schwartz Starting on January 1, 2019, the Lyft Grocery Access Program will offer affordable rides to three East of the River grocery stores for 500 eligible families in an effort to combat common barriers of transportation and access to healthy foods. Lyft has partnered with Martha’s Table, a local nonprofit, that has been working to strengthen families and communities through educational programming, healthy food projects and family support services, to implement the six-month pilot program. For $2.50 per ride, up to two members of participating families will be able to share rides to one of three local grocery stores (Giant at 1535 Alabama Avenue SE, Safeway at 322 40th Street NE, and Safeway at 2845 Alabama Avenue SE) or the Martha’s Table food markets (locations here). Eligible families must have at least one child enrolled in one of the six participating elementary schools or engaged in Martha’s Table’s educational programs and must attend an in-person orientation with Martha’s Table and Lyft prior to using their rides. Families will receive up to 50 rides through June 30, 2019. According to Lindsay Morton, Director of Healthy Markets at Martha’s Table, families have long reported that transportation is one of the top three barriers to accessing grocery stores. The program seeks to lessen the financial and logistical burdens associated with getting to grocery stores. Lyft has been a supporter of Martha’s Table for over a year and came to the nonprofit to find a way to stand with the DC community and leverage each entity’s powers to combat issues with food access and the prevalence of food deserts. Martha’s Table has been an essential player in working to resolve this problem in the city and is known to be a convener of both residents utilizing their programs and influencers who may impact the scalability of effective efforts. Collaborating through a series of meetings, Lyft and Martha’s Table were able to come up with a number of ideas, test their efficacy, and quickly bring the pilot program to fruition. Martha’s Table has reached out to local partner schools, families engaged in their programming, and community members to spread the word. If the program proves successful, they will seek to generate funding strategies to take the program to a larger scale. The goal is to first expand the program to more families in Wards 7 and 8 and then to grow the program to reach the rest of the District, and the greater DC Metro area. The program will utilize a survey model to assess its efficacy, with participants sharing information on their grocery shopping habits before, during, and at the conclusion of the pilot period. Morton shared that the enthusiasm from last week’s announcement has made the idea of implementing the program on a larger scale seem possible and that the organizations were excited to begin the new year with an innovative approach to reducing transportation and food access barriers in DC. For more information about the program, please visit the Lyft Grocery Access Program website. Families interested in joining the program can apply here. Registration is on a first come, first served basis. Registration will remain open until 500 families are enrolled.   Jessalyn Schwartz is an editor of East of the River Profiles. 

RECAP: 2018 DC Pro Bono Week Sealing & Expungement Summit

RECAP: 2018 DC Pro Bono Week Sealing & Expungement Summit

By Omar Delgadillo On October 26th, D.C. Law Students in Court (LSIC) hosted a Sealing & Expungement Summit at the Department of Employment Services building at their Minnesota Avenue Office in Northeast. This DC Pro Bono Week event connected members of the community with lawyers to help with the expungement and sealing of their criminal records. The Summit was an informational fair as well as a clinic, embodying LSIC's client-centered approach to representation.  In this effort, LSIC's Eviction Defense Project, LSIC's Civil Protection Order Program and LSIC's Social Work Program were present at the Summit to assist attendees with other legal services. Community partners provided information to Summit attendees on how to overcome the employment and housing barriers that arrest records can present.  LSIC partners at the Summit included the the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the D.C. Office on Human Rights, the Mayor's Office on Returning Citizens Affairs, the Project Empowerment Program  and Howard University's Fair Housing Clinic. Each one of these partners provided information on the law surrounding housing and employment discrimination to the Summit attendees.  With the coordination of Jen Tschirch, Pro Bono Coordinator at Georgetown University Law Center, several GULC law student volunteers also participated in the Summit. The D.C. Office of Human Rights provided information about actions individuals can take to protect against unlawful discrimination on the basis of their criminal record. For example, they can file a complaint against an employer or landlord whose applications contain questions about criminal records, or if there is reason to believe that their housing or employment applications were rejected before the offer stage because of their criminal record. One attendee said he has been rejected nine times in his search for housing and was told directly that one of his applications was rejected because of a prior conviction. If true, this would constitute a violation of D.C.'s Ban the Box law, which prohibits a criminal record from being considered early in the housing application process. Another attendee said he was homeless and believed he was facing trouble getting a job because of his criminal history; he had not received responses to his job applications despite having a high school diploma. The Expungement Summit involved eighteen attorneys from four major DC law firms (Arnold & Porter, Latham & Watkins, Reed Smith, Steptoe & Johnson).  LSIC's clinic had a big assist from Maya Sheppard at Neighborhood Legal Services Program.  Due to the Summit's success, LSIC has been able to pair more than a dozen Summit attendees with our pro bono partners for full representation in the weeks since the Summit. Washington Council of Lawyers was instrumental in helping LSIC offer this pro bono opportunity to the DC legal community. The Sealing & Expungement Summit provided dozens of individuals with much-needed information and guidance. It was a great success! Questions? Want to know more? Contact: LSIC Expungement Hotline: (202) 607-2721 or expungement@dclawstudents.org   Omar Delgadillo is a member of the East of the River Profiles Committee.

Children’s Law Center’s Medical-Legal Partnership: A Holistic Approach To Child Welfare In The District

Children’s Law Center’s Medical-Legal Partnership: A Holistic Approach to Child Welfare in the District

By Jessalyn Schwartz On October 24th, Children’s Law Center (CLC) invited legal professionals and advocates to visit their Medical-Legal Partnership site at the Children’s Health Center of Anacostia, providing a window into the impactful Healthy Together program. One of the first medical-legal partnerships in the country, the Healthy Together program was built on the idea that many of the health issues facing children in the District were not solely medical in nature. Many social determinants of health that children face include inadequate housing, school exclusion, or food shortages, among other problems, and medical providers were not equipped to address them with medical treatment alone. Through the Healthy Together program, CLC has now placed attorneys in seven health clinics across DC to identify legal barriers to treatment—ones like poor housing conditions that cause asthma—and help bridge the gaps that exist for youth and families. Doctors are trained to perform screenings and ask questions about issues that may lead to legal intervention. On-site attorneys may have easier access to medical records, be able to obtain letters for reasonable accommodations, and advance their clients’ interests with the assistance of medical providers. The Healthy Together program is currently made up of eleven attorneys and two investigators who work closely with CLC’s pro bono attorneys, guardians ad litem, and the advocacy of third-party caregivers and parents to serve communities in need. There is also a very active policy team in place, tackling the systemic issues that attorneys and providers are seeing on the ground. A substantial piece of CLC’s focus in this work is the BUILD Health DC initiative, a partnership between CLC, the DC Department of Health, and IMPACT DC. BUILD Health DC is concentrated on the intersection of housing conditions and pediatric asthma disparities in the city and provides data resources, direct services, and tools to assist community stakeholders in improving health and wellness for children and families. Kathy Zeisel, the Senior Supervising Attorney onsite at the Anacostia clinic, reported that the medical-legal partnership has increased client access to legal counsel and allows providers to address more health issues and have a deeper understanding of legal issues facing their patients. In 2017, CLC’s medical-legal partnership directly assisted over 3,100 children and families, 57% of whom were from Wards 7 and 8. On a systemic level, CLC has released a comprehensive city-wide mental health plan for children, generated innovative mold legislation, and engaged in advocacy related to children with disabilities, housing conditions, and agency oversight in housing and healthcare provision. Pro bono attorney involvement is essential to the success of Healthy Together and other services provided by CLC. Jen Masi, CLC’s Pro Bono Director, reported that CLC takes on approximately 200 new cases each year in the areas of child custody, caregiver representation, special education, and housing conditions. CLC provides screenings, trainings and resources, and mentoring by experienced staff to ensure that pro bono counsel are equipped to zealously advocate for their clients. To learn more about getting involved, contact Jen Masi at jmasi@childrenslawcenter.org or visit www.childrenslawcenter.org/pro-bono.

Free Medicare Part D Walk-in Clinics

Free Medicare Part D Walk-in Clinics

Legal Aid and Whitman-Walker are hosting walk-in clinics for people who obtain regular prescription drugs and have Medicare Part D. The clinics will allow beneficiaries to meet with a lawyer and get a Medicare Part D analysis. The Open Season for Medicare Part D started on October 15. The Open Season runs through December 7 for individuals who do not also receive Medicaid or QMB, and through December 31 for low-income Medicare beneficiaries. It's always a good idea for beneficiaries to get a "Medicare Part D check up" every year to make sure that whatever Part D plan they are in will continue to cover their drugs next year. An English language flyer and a Spanish language flyer with the dates and locations of the clinics offered by Whitman-Walker Health can be viewed here. An English language flyer with the dates and locations of the clinics offered by the Legal Aid Society of DC can be found here. A Spanish language flyer with the dates and locations of the clinics offered by the Legal Aid Society of DC can be found here. Spread the word!