young woman holding babyThank you to everyone who supported our mission to increase access to justice last year. Because of your support, thousands of vulnerable families - like Jaimie's* - can start the new year free from fear or abuse.

20-year-old Jaimie couldn’t have been more excited to become a mother after she and her husband had their first child. Though her husband had struggled with mental health conditions in the past, she thought he was doing well, was getting the medical treatment he needed to be stable, and was excited about their new baby too. Jaimie envisioned a bright and loving future for their family.  

Unfortunately, her vision for a happy future was soon shattered. One day, she overheard her husband in the next room start screaming “Shut the f**k up!” while their 3 month old baby cried in what sounded like pain.  Jaimie rushed into the room and found her spouse angry and yelling, hovering over the shrieking baby. Jaimie knew she had to stop him. They got into an argument about his behavior. Then he got violent. Jaimie’s husband shoved her down hard. Luckily her baby was unharmed, but Jaimie received contusions on her head and body in addition to the emotional scars the incident left behind.  

Jaimie escaped with the baby, moved into friend's house, and filed for a protective order on her own. The court granted her order and Jaimie breathed a sigh of relief.  

But, only a few weeks later, after her husband was served with the protective order, Jaimie’s husband sued her for divorce and joint custody of their baby. She still loved her husband but was not willing to put herself or, most certainly, her child back into a dangerous situation. Her husband had stopped getting the medical help he needs. Because of that and his recent violent behavior, she believed her baby would not be safe with him. To protect her child, she needed full custody and supervised visitation for her husband.

Jaimie didn't know where to turn. She knew she could not afford an attorney on her limited income. She learned about SLLS through an internet search and applied online. We scheduled her for an in person follow up at the St. Charles Parish Access to Justice Center.  After reviewing the facts of her case, we agreed to provide her free legal representation in court. We filed a pleading in response to her husband’s suit seeking sole custody of the baby. We argued that Jaimie should have sole custody of her baby and that the court should grant the divorce without the usual one-year waiting period because Jaimie had a protective order in place. 

In December 2019, we won the case. Now, Jamie can start this year knowing that she and her child will have a safer and more stable future.

Thank you to United Way of St. Charles, whose financial support provided the legal help Jamie's family needed to escape abuse.

* Some facts have been altered to protect the identity of our client.

Eviction notice on door

"Jennifer" came to us scared that she was going to lose her home after her landlord served her an eviction notice. Without enough money to move, pay for storage, or get a new apartment, she feared that she was about to lose everything she owned and become homeless.

We discovered that Jennifer's landlord had been charging her illegal monthly fees on top of her rent. So far, Jennifer had paid her landlord 52 times more than her monthly rent in these fees! When she could no longer afford to pay them, her landlord threatened to put her on the street.

Our attorneys defeated the eviction and got Jennifer a refund for all the money she had given her landlord to pay these fees. But we didn't stop there. The landlord owns over 500 rental units. So, we negotiated with the landlord and with the Housing Authority of New Orleans to end the unlawful practice that almost cost Jennifer her home - ensuring the hundreds of low-income families who live in these units will no longer be charged these illegal fees.

Our supporters helped protect both current and future low-income tenants from over $32,000 in fees per month that their landlord was charging them illegally. We hope you will join our supporters in the fight for fairness today by making a donation at https://slls.org/donations/.

Deanna

Deanna’s marriage to her husband was full of ups and downs. Her husband was often abusive to her. But she loved him and was committed to making things work. After three years of marriage, they had a beautiful baby boy. Deanna was thrilled. She thought the love she and her husband each felt for their son would bring them closer together. Unfortunately, she was wrong. Things got worse. Her husband continued to abuse her physically and emotionally. When her son was four years old, Deanna’s husband pushed her against a wall in a fit of rage, screamed in her face, and threatened to kill her. She was terrified. She finally had had enough.

She wanted legal help, but because she was working a low-wage job and needed to support her son, she knew she could not afford to pay a lawyer. Deanna went to the St. Charles Parish Courthouse to find out what she could do to protect herself on her own. She was directed to the courthouse’s Access to Justice Center Self-Help Desk. There, an SLLS attorney helped her fill out the forms she needed to obtain a protective order to keep herself and her son safe.

Still, she was scared – of her husband, of the monumental step she was taking would mean for her and her son, and of the complicated legal process she was about the start. It all felt overwhelming and confusing.

Fortunately, the Self-Help Desk didn’t stop at pointing her to forms she needed to file. She was informed that SLLS might be able represent her for free. SLLS attorneys could help her obtain permanent safety for herself and her child that the protective order alone could not provide.

With the help of an SLLS attorney by her side to fight for her rights, Deanna obtained a divorce and joint custody of her son, with Deanna as the primary custodial parent. Her now ex-husband was ordered to complete a ba tterer’s intervention program. Now Deanna has the fresh start she needs to stabilize her life and protect her family.

SLLS Helps Prevent an Air Force Veteran from Becoming Homeless

Mark* is a proud Air Force veteran. After receiving an Honorable Discharge in the early 1980s, he worked as a mechanic for many years. After Hurricane Katrina, he gutted and rebuilt storm damaged homes to play his part in bringing New Orleans back. As he got older, he struggled with medical problems that made it harder and harder for him to do the heavy lifting this work required. But in 2016, Mark’s health took a tragic turn for the worse. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and heart failure. He just couldn’t do that kind of work any longer.

Mark wasn’t sure what to do and thought about applying for disability. Then, one day, while at a doctor’s appointment at the VA Medical Center in New Orleans, his social worker told him that he could get free legal help downstairs in the hospital. There, in a small office across from the cafeteria, SLLS’ Veterans Justice Project – funded with support from the New Orleans Bar Association and New Orleans Bar Foundation – helps low-income veterans resolve civil legal problems.

Mark decided it was worth a try. He had nowhere else to turn and was scared that he would lose his home if he didn’t find a solution soon. When Mark walked into our VA Hospital legal clinic, he was 60 years old, unable to work, and had no income.

Our attorney did a full civil legal needs screening for Mark. Based on the screening, we recommended Mark apply for VA service connected benefits. We also helped Mark apply for Social Security benefits. Advocating for and supporting Mark through every step of the process, we helped him get an expedited approval of his disability claim from the Social Security Administration. Mark is now receiving both VA and Social Security disability benefits, which together, pays him nearly $10,000/year. He no longer fears he will become homeless. He is reassured to know that SLLS is there for him, conveniently located at the VA Hospital, if he ever needs legal help again.

Mark served his country well and worked hard his whole life. We’re proud that we had the opportunity to serve him when he needed help.

 

* Names and other identifying information were changed to protect our client's identity.

 

SLLS Protects Homes and Savings for Low-Income People

When Estelle* walked into our office, she was distraught.  At  66 years old, after working hard her entire life, she suddenly faced the possibility of losing her home and  her savings. Her health was deteriorating and since she received only $800 a month in retirement, she didn’t have enough money to get another apartment. She was scared she would end up sleeping on the streets. Most frustrating, Estelle knew she had done nothing wrong.

Estelle had worked for her previous employer for over 10 years. She did odd jobs on her boss’ properties and helped get them in shape for inspections. Her employer always paid her in cash and sometimes withheld some of her earnings to help her save for big expenses. This relationship worked well for both of them. About five years ago, her employer offered a new arrangement – the opportunity to lease-to-own one of his properties.  She was excited about the possibility of owning her own home and the stability it would provide. She looked forward to aging in place there.  Her boss said she could use $10,000 of the money he had “saved” for  her to put towards the down payment. Then the plan was for her boss to withhold  part of her pay to cover the monthly rent. Estelle was thrilled. She signed a 30-year lease with option to purchase her new home.

The arrangement was great for the first couple of years. Then Estelle’s bosses who co-owned the business employing Estelle started fighting with each other. There was disagreement on who owned the business and how to dissolve the business assets. Estelle wound up being fired and then served with an eviction notice accusing her of not paying the rent. On top of that, they denied they owed her any money for her past work. That’s when Estelle called SLLS.

Attorneys from SLLS’s Employment and Housing Units teamed up to help Estelle. Getting justice for Estelle took months and several court appearances. More than once, Estelle thought about giving up. She found the legal process confusing and frustrating. The stress of the situation was taking a toll on her health. Without SLLS, Estelle could not have afforded to have an attorney. With SLLS by her side, she continued to fight for what she knew  was right.  In the end, the court dismissed the eviction and Estelle got to keep her home. The court also found ordered the employers to pay  Estelle  $23,000 in unpaid wages. Now Estelle’s doesn’t have to worry about losing her home and her future is secure.

 

*Our client's name has been changed to protect her identity.

 

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the individuals portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities. 

Beatrice works part-time as a food pantry clerk at a nonprofit organization. She lives by herself and devotes most of her time to community service, working to assure that vulnerable people in our community, including children and people who are homeless, have enough to eat. While she is passionate about her work, the income she receives from it leaves her with little financial flexibility. When Beatrice faced some unexpected expenses, she couldn’t afford to pay her bills.  Someone advised her to stop making payments on her second mortgage since her first mortgage was already current. 

Then she was served with a notice of foreclosure. She was terrified that she would lose her home and end up living on the street. 

Beatrice learned that to bring her second mortgage up-to-date, she would have to pay $1,400 in past due payments. On top of that, the mortgage lender demanded she pay $2,500 - nearly double her past-due payment amount - for their attorney’s legal fees. Beatrice could not afford to pay nearly $4000 on her income. Afraid of losing her home, Beatrice knew she needed to act quickly. Since she couldn’t afford to pay for an attorney, a friend recommended she call SLLS for help.

After Beatrice contacted SLLS, our Foreclosure Counselor called her mortgage lender to negotiate. The lender agreed to remove the legal fees. Beatrice only had to pay what she owed to save her home. In addition, our Foreclosure Counselor negotiated down Beatrice’s monthly payments so that she could afford to keep her home and save money for unexpected expenses in the future.

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the individuals portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities.

When Ms. Mable decided to move out of Mississippi, she was looking forward to a peaceful retirement in her hometown of St. Rose in St. Charles Parish. She suffered from severe medical problems and needed medical treatment for her worsening conditions. With less than $1,000 to her name and relying on her Social Security retirement benefits for income, Ms. Mable could not afford to pay the premiums, co-pays and other fees associated with her Medicare insurance.

Since her prior Medicaid insurance took care of these Medicare costs in Mississippi, she wasn’t worried about getting approved for the same benefits in Louisiana. Sadly, to her surprise her Louisiana Medicaid application was denied. Ms. Mable didn’t know what to do.

Without Medicaid, she could not afford to pay for her medical treatment or prescription medications. She decided to seek legal help from SLLS’ Harvey office.

Her SLLS attorney discovered that the Medicaid office failed to properly assess her Medicaid application. Thanks to our advocacy, Ms. Mable’s application was approved. Now she can rest assured that her medical care is covered and that she has access to the life-saving benefits she needs for a peaceful retirement.

Little Girl

In the wake of her adult daughter’s sudden death, Margaret* knew she had to be strong despite the heartbreak she felt over losing her child. Her 3 year old granddaughter Sophia, now orphaned with no other family to step in, needed her.

“Margaret” tried to enroll Sophia in Head Start, but could not because she did not have legal custody. Unable to afford childcare, Margaret had to quit her job to take care of Sophia.Then she came to SLLS for help.

SLLS provided Margaret free legal representation to help her quickly obtain legal custody. In addition, Margaret’s SLLS attorney advised her to apply for Kinship Care, a state program that helps some low-income families.

Thanks to supporters like you, Margaret could return to work and get the support she needs to provide her granddaughter a safe, stable, loving home. And Sophia is now in Head Start, getting the early education that kids need to be successful in school and for the rest of her life.

Join our 50 More Years Committee to ensure families like Sophia’s can access the legal aid they need by donating to SLLS this #GiveNOLADay at www.givenola.org/SLLS. Thanks to a generous donor and the folks at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, you’re donation will be more than doubled!

*Names and other information have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names and other identifying information of the individuals portrayed were changed to protect our client’s identity.

Gene hoped to build a better life for himself. When he was a teenager he was charged with a misdemeanor and was sent to jail. After his release, Gene struggled to make a living for himself. While he was qualified for a job at a large Downtown New Orleans Hotel chain the employer refused to accept his job application since he had a criminal background. Gene felt defeated and didn’t know what to do. It seemed as though he would never be able to escape the mistakes of his past.

Then Gene came to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS). His SLLS attorney determined he was eligible for an expungement. An expungement would seal his criminal record from public view so it cannot be used against him in the employment or housing application process. SLLS also referred him to our partners at the STRIVE Future Leaders program for job training. Thanks to these efforts, Gene got his record expunged and gained more jobs skills.

When Gene re-applied for the hotel job, his SLLS attorney went with him to advocate for him and help the employer understand the expungement process. The employer reconsidered Gene’s application and decided to give Gene a chance. Now Gene is working full time and making a good living wage, with opportunities for internal advancement. With a stable source of income, he is providing for his minor child and has reunited with his family. Today, Gene is a community leader showing others that mistakes made in the past can be overcome.  

                                     

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the individuals portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities.

Cameron was a high school senior who dreamed of enrolling in LSU and becoming the first college graduate in his family. While his parents lived in Mississippi, Cameron lived with his 23-year-old step-brother in a small apartment in Covington, LA. His parents believed that it was for the best because they could not longer take care of him themselves.

A few months before Cameron moved to Covington, his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. While it broke her heart to see Cameron leave her side, she had no other options but to send him away. His father also could not support him – he had lost his job, was depressed, and started abusing drugs.

When Cameron moved to Covington, he was determined to make a better life for himself. He studied hard in school and hoped that his grades would help him get accepted into college. He wanted to make his mother proud.

Unfortunately, life in his new home was far from easy. His step-brother barely made enough for the two of them to survive. Every month, they were forced to choose between having a warm meal to eat or a warm place to sleep. So, Cameron decided he needed to get a job. While still going to school full-time, he started working 40 hours a week.

Cameron still kept hitting roadblocks – he could not access the things he needed on his own because he was a minor. He couldn’t get health insurance. He couldn’t get car insurance to drive his car back and forth to work and school. He couldn’t apply for financial aid for college. He learned that without financial aid, he would have to pay for all of his tuition costs out-of-pocket. Even though he was working, he was barely making ends meet and knew he could never afford to pay the entire college tuition on his own. He felt lost and didn’t know what to do next.

Cameron’s mother encouraged him to get an emancipation so he could access the things he needed on his own. She encouraged him to get legal help. That’s when he turned to Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.

We matched his case with one of our volunteer attorneys and she helped Cameron complete the joint emancipation pleadings. They argued to the court that due to the urgency of his mother’s diminishing health, the judgment should be granted immediately. And they won. Within less than a week, Cameron was emancipated.

Now, Cameron has the legal documents he needs to take ownership of his life. Thanks to the generosity and zealous advocacy of his SLLS Northshore Pro Bono Project attorney, he can access the healthcare, car insurance, and other services he needs. And, most exciting of all, he can build a new future for himself as he launches the next chapter of his life as a college student. He looks forward to earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering,  so that he can make enough money to support himself and his family.

 

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: The names of the victims portrayed in the following series were altered to protect our client’s identities. This story contains descriptions of violence associated with domestic violence and human trafficking.

 

In the spring of their senior year, Camila and her boyfriend talked about getting married after graduation. They were high school sweethearts and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. A couple months later, they got married and started to build a life together in Livingston, LA.

 

It wasn’t much later that things began to change. Camila’s husband was using drugs and drinking daily. His need to control her escalated. She lived in fear every day. He hit her. He strangled her. He forced her to have sex with other people. He threatened to kill their baby. He threatened to kill her family. When she tried to leave him, he would find her. He told her that if he couldn’t have her, then no one else could.

 

Arguing next to their car on the side of the road one day, he hit her so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Several people witnessed what he did. They called the police who then arrested him. Camila finally realized that there were others who could help - that there was hope for a better life.

 

We met Camila shortly after this incident. She was so young, barely over 20 years old, and had lived most of her teen years and all of her adult life under the thumb of her abuser. She didn’t know what she should do to escape. Her abuser had been out of jail for a week and was calling her several times a day, threatening to kill her if she didn’t let him see their daughter. When she refused to talk to him, he left her message after message on her voicemail. He repeatedly texted and called her family members. He made up fake social media profiles in attempts to get closer to her online. He told her that he would kill her if she tried to divorce him.

 

With help from SLLS, Camila requested a temporary protective order to keep her abuser away from her and her daughter. When she got home after requesting the order, she discovered that her mother’s house, where she had been living, was on fire. Her abuser had tried to burn it down, starting the fire in Camila’s room and destroying part of the home.

The court granted a temporary restraining order and gave Camila temporary custody of their child. However, the court also gave the abuser visitation every other weekend.

 

Though Camila feared her abuser and his constant threats and harassment, she still wanted her daughter to have a father and didn’t want to violate the court’s order. However, eight months later, one of her biggest fears seemed to come true. It was time for her daughter to be returned to her after a weekend visitation. Camila waited and waited and waited. And then she began to panic. Her daughter was not returned to her that day. She couldn’t get in touch with her abuser. She no longer knew where he lived. With nowhere else to turn, she called her attorney.

 

Our attorney walked her through the process of filing the paperwork she needed to get a contempt order from the judge. While Camila filled out forms at the Clerk’s office, our attorney called the local sheriff to explain that the abuser had violated the protective order by failing to return Camila’s daughter. She wanted the sheriff to send a deputy to pick him up and reunite Camila and her daughter immediately. The sheriff told her that he could not arrest Camila’s abuser until he received a civil warrant, which could not be issued that day. Our attorney then pointed out that the sheriff could arrest the abuser for violating the protective order, and that Camila had saved text messages showing that the abuser continued to harass her. Our attorney arranged to get that evidence immediately to the sheriff’s office. Finally the sheriff's office agreed and started the process of searching for Camila’s abuser. Camila had to wait for an agonizing week for them to find her abuser and then return her daughter into her arms.

 

Unfortunately, the sheriff did not arrest her abuser. And the incident only incited him to increase his harassment. He continually threatened to kill her through voicemails, photo shopped pictures, and live video streams.  He soon learned that we were working to protect Camila and her kids - threatening to dismantle the web of power he had used to control her for so long. And he was mad. He left our attorney a series of irate voicemails, rife with expletives, threatening to hurt our attorney as well as Camila. While our case for permanent protections for Camila and her daughter wound its way through the court system, the abuser’s behavior grew more and more erratic and scary.

 

One day, he showed up at the house where Camila was staying with a friend. Camila ran into a closet with her daughter to hide, wrapped her daughter in her arms, and refused to come out until the 911 operator told her it was safe. When she emerged, she learned he had come in the house, threatened her friend with knife, and broken the windows to her car, leaving blood and shattered glass everywhere.

 

A month later, with our help, Camila obtained a divorce, sole custody, and a permanent protective order against her abuser. We also petitioned and prevailed on a rule for contempt because the abuser started threatening Camila in open court after the hearing. The court ordered him to 90 days in prison, giving Camila time to get her and her daughters things together as they prepared to get out of town and far away from her abuser.

 

We’re happy to report that Camila is now safe. She is getting the help she needs for her long journey to regain her confidence and power at a supportive services group for victims of human trafficking.