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 Arooj Sami After eight-year-old Marie (name changed to protect her confidentiality) mentioned her fear of the cockroaches in her home, a doctor realized that there may be another way to help the young patient avoid more emergency room visits to treat her severe asthma. In the District, where 20 percent of children under age 18 have asthma, there are increasing efforts to go beyond clinical interventions and address the roots of this disease. Children’s Law Center, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to children and their families, has partnered with six health facilities around the District, including Unity Health Care’s Minnesota Avenue Clinic in Ward 7, to form Healthy Together. Lawyers from Healthy Together are on site at the partner facilities to train medical staff and answer questions about patients’ non-medical needs. The partnership reflects a holistic approach to children’s health. Although pediatricians advise parents on prescriptions or how to control allergens in the home, in many cases parents have little ability to manage their children's asthma. Some schools have poor air quality and may be unable or unwilling to take steps to reduce asthma triggers. In addition, low-income parents facing housing challenges often cannot prevent a child’s exposure to problematic mold in the home. More generally, management of asthma is affected to economic and social disparities, and low-income families face many barriers to effective management of chronic respiratory conditions. These families often experience instability in employment, housing, and family structure, and have fewer resources to fight for safe and sanitary housing conditions. Low-income working parents tend to lack paid leave or flexible work schedules, and are often unable to take children to doctor’s appointments scheduled during business hours. Areas in the District with the highest prevalence of asthma also have fewer primary care providers—for instance, children in Southeast DC visit the emergency room at a rate ten times greater than in Northwest DC. In light of these circumstances, health practitioners collaborating with Healthy Together attorneys are encouraged to ask about social and economic factors affecting patients’ health and make referrals to address those problems. Practitioners can also consult the Advocacy Code Card, which contains screening questions and resources for mental health services, housing, special education, and public benefits. This type of multi-pronged, collaborative approach is proving to be effective in tackling childhood asthma in the District. In addition to its partnership with Healthy Together, Children’s Law Center has worked with the DC Council to address mold in housing. Prior to 2014, the DC housing code did not cover mold; as long as there was no visible dampness, landlords were able to pass inspection by simply painting over mold. But thanks to the advocacy of Children’s Law Center, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and other groups, the City Council passed a new law requiring landlords to remediate mold once tenants report it. As for Marie: she was referred to Children’s Law Center by Impact DC, an asthma research and treatment unit at the Children’s National Health System, after an emergency room visit. Children's Law Center arranged for a housing inspection through the DC Department of Environment’s Partnership for Healthy Homes. The inspection showed signs of cockroaches, excrement, decomposing cockroach bodies, and mice in the HVAC system—all triggers for asthma. After legal action was threatened, the landlord agreed to move Marie and her family to sanitary housing. Marie's health improved drastically after her family moved into better housing conditions. She had fewer acute episodes and did not have to be rushed to the emergency room. When her asthma was poorly controlled, Marie was missing school, or she was tired and unable to concentrate in class. Her mother, who was losing sleep staying up nights to care for Marie when she was wheezing, found it difficult to maintain steady employment because her daughter’s health required urgent attention. The family has since regained a sense of calm and an improved quality of life—all thanks to help from Healthy Together.