Many of our funders provide general operating funds. However, some funders have helped SLLS staff special projects, to provide legal representation to particularly vulnerable populations. Vital to our success in these projects, as with our legal work in other areas, is coordination of our work with other groups and agencies.
Domestic Violence. In metropolitan New Orleans, SLLS actively works with Project Save and several local domestic violence programs to provide a holistic approach to the issues facing domestic violence clients. A grant from the Office of Violence Against Women of the U.S. Department of Justice normally funds this work. In 2003, Baptist Community Ministries gave SLLS $130,000 to continue this work during an 8 month gap in federal funding. In 2004, Harrah's gave SLLS a COPE grant of $10,000 for this work. SLLS' recent work in this area was recognized when Bernadette D'Souza, one of the domestic violence attorneys in the New Orleans office, received a 2003 Into Action Award from the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence for her commitment and efforts to end domestic violence in Louisiana.
Beginning in 1981, SLLS has provided legal representation to the victims of domestic violence. Volunteers on SLLS' staff began the Southeast Spouse Abuse Program, filling a critical void in SLLS' rural parishes. Since then, SLLS has had a special relationship with the domestic violence programs in the northshore service area. This special relationship has been strengthened by a Civil Legal Assistance grant from the United States Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women. A key to the grant’s success is SLLS' collaborative relationship with the St. Tammany Battered Women's Program and Southeast Spouse Abuse Program.
Visitation. In most cases a child's development is improved by quality contact with both parents. Some who do not have custody are denied contact with their children. The Louisiana Department of Social Services (DSS) funds SLLS to help enforce non-custodial parents' visitation rights. SLLS provides this representation only upon referral from DSS. Only people in good standing with Child Support Enforcement are referred, and there is a higher income standard for these cases. SLLS is also able to provide this service to some low-income parents who do not get a DSS referral. The Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA) manages this project.
Predatory Home Mortgages. SLLS can help people 60 or over from anywhere in the state who are facing the loss of a home because of a predatory lender. This service is funded by a 3-year, $95,000 annual grant from the U.S. Administration on Aging of the Department of Health and Human Services. The project is based in SLLS' New Orleans office.
The predatory loan project also supports other programs which provide free services to the elderly. Partners in the project include the Better Business Bureau, which will offer mediation in appropriate cases; Catholic Community Services in Baton Rouge, which will provide free foreign language interpretation in eight different languages; the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs and the award-winning Elder Law Task Force which will help with outreach and publicity; and The AARP Foundation National Legal Training Project, which will provide training. SLLS also helps low-income victims of predatory lending in its service area, regardless of age.
Income tax problems. In a joint project with the National Technology Assistance Project and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, SLLS helps taxpayers file their income tax forms claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit. An easy-to-use computer program helps generate the tax forms at our office. Taxpayers can then file their return electronically from our office. This service is provided free of charge. Thanks to a grant from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), SLLS through its New Orleans office also helps low-income taxpayers in its ten-parish service area (and from other parishes on appropriate referral) in conflicts with the IRS.
Senior Citizens. In four of its parishes, SLLS has a special project for people 60 and over. It is funded by the Livingston Council on Aging and Capital Area Agency on Aging. Under this project SLLS can provide services with civil legal problems regardless of the income and type of case. Under a contract with Elderly Protective Services (EPS) SLLS provides some legal representation in EPS' efforts to protect the elderly who lack the capacity to protect themselves. This services is available only if asked for by EPS.
The Homeless. SLLS has two attorneys and a paralegal who work exclusively with homeless persons in Jefferson and Orleans Parishes to assist them with most legal matters. This program is primarily focused upon helping people move out of homelessness through overcoming legal hurdles, such as obtaining Social Security or SSI, as well as preserving the civil rights of the homeless. Although these staff members serve all homeless persons in Orleans and Jefferson, the chronically homeless (those with a disability who have been on the streets for more than a year) are an area of particular focus. While this project is restricted to Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, SLLS offices in other areas can also assist the homeless just as they would any other eligible client. This project is funded with money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through a grant awarded locally by UNITY for the Homeless.
Increasing access to justice through technology. Thanks to grants from the Legal Services Corporation, SLLS works with a coalition of courts, civil justice organizations, social service providers, pro bono groups, and others from around the state to increase the quality and quantity of legal services to the low-income through technology.
One such project is a statewide website for the public, www.lawhelp.org/LA. It provides legal information and referral. Another project is a website for public interest advocates who represent the low-income, www.probono.net/la. It offers members a brief bank, mentors, events calendar, listservs, and other practice tools. A third project provides a statewide technology coordinator. Through this grant, SLLS has taken a leadership role in statewide attempts to provide better services through technology. This project is housed at the Louisiana State Bar Association which is our partner in this project.