By Rita Santibañez
On December 4, 2018, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (WLCH), a local organization looking to provide vital legal services for those who struggle with homelessness and poverty, opened its 7th intake site at the United Planning Organization (UPO) Anacostia Community Service Center. Located at 1649 Good Hope Road SE, the site will hold intake sessions on the first and third Tuesday of every month, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm.
At these sessions, volunteer attorneys will host one-on-one introductory meetings for clients to share their legal issues, ask questions, and discuss next steps. Volunteer attorneys handle cases relating to public benefits (SSI, SSDI, TANF, IDA, food stamps), shelter (rights, denials, terminations, conditions), and subsidized housing. They also provide support for police complaints, property issues, consumer issues, obtaining identification (out-of-state birth certificates, etc.), and emergency assistance. Currently, they do not directly assist clients with cases involving family law, criminal defense, immigration, employment, probate or landlord-tenant; however, they are able to provide referrals for low- or no-cost legal aid programs who specialize in those areas.
According to Karen Malovrh, Staff Attorney at WLCH, potential clients, particularly those with limited ability to travel, inflexible work schedules, or childcare obligations, have been reporting that it can be difficult to access their downtown intake sites. Due to this barrier, WLCH may miss opportunities to provide assistance to many of the most underserved members of the community. In response to these previously unmet client needs, WLCH established this new presence in SE and are working to further their goal of fair and just access to pro bono legal services.
The new site was the perfect opportunity for WLCH to join forces with UPO, whose SE Community Center is central to where many of their clients live, work, and receive social services. The UPO site already directly offers more than 30 programs and services, including: vocational job training, job readiness and placement, early childhood education, and youth development programs. UPO also processes applications for the Electronic Benefit (EBT) cards used for food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The staff at UPO has been incredibly welcoming to the WLCH and their volunteers, Malovrh says, and she and her team are incredibly grateful for their partnership and support in reaching more community members to address essential legal needs.
If you are an attorney who is interested in volunteering at this site, WLCH welcomes your support. Volunteer attorneys must be 1) DC-barred (or have their application pending), 2) work for the federal government and be barred in any state, or 3) work for a DC-based non-profit. Please contact their volunteer coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about their program and how you can get involved.
Rita Santibañez is a contributing author to East of the River Profiles