May is Older Americans Month and this year’s theme is “Communities of Strength.” Senior citizens have been one of the highest risk groups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, not only for contracting the coronavirus, but for falling victim to schemes seeking to take advantage of vulnerable people. SLLS provides a range of legal services aimed to protect senior citizens. Our attorneys assist seniors with legal issues like foreclosure prevention assistance with reverse mortgage lenders, wills/successions, and consumer problems like scams that threaten their financial security. We also bring legal education to libraries across our service areas to make information accessible to seniors who are not tech savvy. With access to the civil legal aid when they need it most, our seniors can remain strong and resilient members of the community.
SLLS Helps Senior Citizens Get Stability
Roberta, a senior citizen undergoing cancer treatment, got behind on her mortgage and was facing foreclosure. By the time she was referred to SLLS for help, it was almost too late. The mortgage lender had hired their own attorney, and added thousands of dollars in extra fees to her debt. Her SLLS attorney acted quickly to begin the process to reinstate her mortgage. With our help, she was approved for $10,000 in mortgage assistance from Catholic Charities. Through the swift and diligent work of SLLS, her foreclosure was prevented. Now Roberta can focus on her health recovery in her own home.
Lionel, a 70-year-old man living in a homeless shelter, reached out to SLLS for assistance getting access to his social security benefits. With no permanent address or phone number he was unable to get a debit card. His attorney tried to submit documentation, so he could access the funds, but the bank would not accept the shelter address. Because he was too frail to travel by bus alone, his attorney took him to the bank. They discovered he already had an account and that $1,830 was being deposited into his account monthly. He had over $10,000 saved and had no idea it was there! Since he had not been receiving any mail at the homeless shelter, he had lost track of the account. With this income and savings he’ll be able to get out of the shelter and into permanent housing.
SLLS Wins Big at LSBA Pro Bono Publico and Children’s Law Awards
Dr. Kathleen Crapanzano
SLLS Child in Need of Care (CINC) Unit
L-R: Mary Ann Swaim, Alexandra Kamp, Rella Zaplatel, Kirby Kenny, Josephine Vanderhorst, Managing Attorney, Emily Aucoin, and Natalie Paul.
SLLS was well represented at the Louisiana State Bar Association's 2021 Pro Bono Publico and Children's Law Awards! Congratulations to our Child in Need of Care Unit, Children's Law Award; Andrea Jeanmarie, managing attorney of our Westbank office, Career Public Interest Award; Dr. Kathleen Crapanzano, SLLS Homeless One Stop Legal Clinic, Friend of Pro Bono Award; Christopher Ralston, SLLS Board Member,David A. Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award;and our Northshore Pro Bono program volunteers Patricia Bonneau, Frances Strayham, & Ana Lopez, Pro Bono Publico Awards.
SLLS Providing Services in New Sexual Assault Center
Pictured above at the Washington Parish Sexual Assault Center grand opening are SLLS staff members Paula Charles, Theresa Robertson and Camille Kinsey.
SLLS will be providing legal services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault at the new satellite location of the Washington Parish Sexual Assault Center. An SLLS staff members will be on-site at the center on Mondays from 9 am to 4 pm. You can learn more about the center here.
New on the SLLS Blog!
The SLLS blog has lots of information on changes to COVID-19 benefit programs, new tax credits, rental assistance and much more. Check it out at www.slls.org/blog.
It is hard to believe ta year has passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have not seen a period of sustained crisis like this since Hurricane Katrina and we know it is still far from over. Our clients are still struggling, with our caseload still increasing, yet the outlook is far from hopeless. As challenging as navigating the pandemic has been, we have been able to continue to provide exceptional service to our clients. Our legal advocacy wins have achieve impacts far beyond individual clients served. Our direct casework helped obtain or preserve over $22 million in benefits for our clients. We’ve innovated our outreach delivery to reach more people in safe ways with in-person outreach resuming in April 2021 with strict adherence to COVID protocols.
Thank you for your continued support in the fight for fairness.
SLLS Clients and Staff Featured in TIME Documentary
New Orleans based filmmaker Kathleen Flynn followed two SLLS clients, Ronda Favre and Dominique King, both African-American single mothers who lost their jobs in the hospitality industry, as they faced the dire prospect of being evicted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their SLLS Attorneys, Hannah Adams and Alexis Erkert, are also featured in the piece, highlighting the uphill battle our attorneys have faced trying to keep families in their homes and the disproportionate impact on women of color during the pandemic.
Looking Back at SLLS COVID-19 Response
Our online outreach has been hugely successful in connecting the community with the resources they need. We had over 25,000 Facebook Live views and nearly a million views on our website.
Our COVID-19 hotline has received over 15,000 calls, and streamlined our processes to make it easier for clients to get the help that they need in a crisis.
As a result of our advocacy to keep our clients safe from COVID-19 exposure, several courts modified their processes for remote hearings and ADA accommodations.
At the start of the pandemic, Jefferson Parish Juvenile Court stopped hearing child abuse cases, leaving vulnerable children at serious risk of abuse and neglect. SLLS successfully advocated to the LA Supreme Court for these critical hearings resume.
For Our Clients, The Crisis is Far From Over
Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we're still seeing huge increases in the need for legal services. We've seen an over 2000% increase in unemployment compensation cases compared to the two months prior to the outbreak and despite the CDC eviction moratorium and rental assistance programs, families are still at-risk of becoming homeless as a result of eviction.
Give NOLA Day - May 4, 2021
All funds raised will support our ongoing COVID-19 Legal Relief Efforts.
As Black History Month draws to a close, we are reminded of the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on black families, hit hard by higher rates of COVID-19 mortality, eviction and poverty. A nationwide study found that black renters accounted for 32% of all evictions, while only being 20% of the renter population. The disproportionality is even more stark in our own caseload – 89% of our eviction cases are for people of color. While we can't always impact everyone who needs civil legal aid, we always fight for fair and equitable access to the legal assistance our clients need.
Thank you for your continued support in the fight for fairness.
SLLS Gives a Voice to Our Smallest Clients
Our Child in Need of Care (CINC) unit provides civil legal representation to children who have entered the foster care system, through no fault of their own, as a result of abuse or neglect by their parent or guardian. Our average CINC client is a first grader aged six and a half. CINC cases are often long and taxing, as our attorney's fight to achieve permanent stability and safety for very small children who have experienced significant trauma in their lives.
SLLS Delivers for a Struggling Tenant
SLLS Staff Attorney Zach Simmons and his client Ms. Parker
Our recently launched Pro Bono Innovation Fund Security Deposit Theft Project is already delivering successes for our clients. Out of no where, Ms. Parker began receiving inexplicably high water bills. While she was able to get out of her lease and find a new place to live, her former landlord refused to refund her $1,000 security deposit, even though she hadn't caused any damage to the apartment. Zach Simmons, her SLLS attorney, sent a demand letter to the landlord requesting the full refund of her security deposit and a portion of the outrageous water bill. He was recently able to deliver the refund check for over $1,400 from the landlord to Ms. Parker on her birthday.
SLLS Partners with the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center to Fight Evictions During the Pandemic
We are excited to announce that we received funding for a second Gillis Long fellowship, focusing on tenants rights, in response to our increase in housing cases due to the pandemic. Chris Kerrigan, a recent Loyola graduate, is our project attorney.
Davida Finger, Clinic Professor & Associate Dean of Students, said "The Gillis Long Poverty Law Center is pleased to partner with SLLS on critical civil justice work including housing. The challenges renters have faced during the pandemic are tremendous. The Housing Justice fellowship is one way to increase representation and access to justice and bolster the important legal work that SLLS does."
New Report Finds that Civil Legal Aid Works!
A new report from the Louisiana Bar Foundation found that Civil Legal Aid Provides a 918% Social Return on Investment to Louisiana. For every $1 invested in Louisiana's civil legal aid services, programs deliver $9.18 in immediate and long-term consequential financial benefits. “We know best how to direct civil legal aid to have the most impact for Louisianans in need of legal help. Access to civil legal aid makes Louisiana’s communities stronger – schools, businesses, government agencies and the state all benefit from resolving civil legal problems,” said LBF Executive Director Donna Cuneo.
“Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere”
- Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At SLLS, we work tirelessly to close the “justice gap,” making it possible for everyone to have access to the legal representation that they need. A society with equal justice for all is possible when low-income families are able to access safety, housing, employment, education, medical care and so much more. In times of crisis, it is critical to remember that the well-being of our entire community is connected. Every dollar invested in civil legal aid produces a $9.13 social return on investment for the entire community. Our team fights every day for individual clients, but the impact of our work extends far beyond single cases. When we break down legal barriers for one client, we get closer to making equal justice for all a reality. Thank you for your continued support in the fight for fairness!
SLLS Fights to Achieve Stability for Vulnerable People
After being discharged from jail, Lamont was homeless and living in the woods. He was disconnected from society and lacked basic necessities. His SLLS attorney helped him obtain an I.D. Then we helped him apply for a stimulus check, which gave him enough income to afford a stay in a homeless shelter and to buy food. With a safe place to stay, he now has the stability he needs to try and make permanent connections. SLLS is still working on his disability claim and hopes to have a favorable decision soon.
Samuel was an SLLS client with significant mental health conditions that made it difficult for him to navigate the Medicaid application process. He hadn’t received mental health treatment in years because of his lack of medical coverage. With the help of his attorney, his application was approved within a week of submission and he has begun receiving mental health services and is receiving the medication that he needs to stay healthy.
Housing Unit Receives "Fair Housing Heroes" Award
The SLLS Housing Unit was presented with the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center's "Fair Housing Heroes" award during Day 2 of their 2021 Fit for a King Fair Housing Summit. Executive Director Cashauna Hill said of our housing team "they are tiny, but very mighty... I have been amazed and awed by the dedication and commitment that the SLLS housing unit has shown throughout the pandemic, putting their own health on the line by appearing in court in person throughout the pandemic."
New Year, New Opportunities!
SLLS is looking for volunteers to help with our In Forma Pauperis project.
If you are interested in volunteering, or want to know more, contact Elena Perez.
Help SLLS increase access to justice in some of Louisiana's most impoverished areas - join the Rural Summer Legal Corps! Current law students who have completed at least their first year of law school are eligible to apply. The stipend is $5,000 with great training opportunities available. The deadline to apply here is February 8, 2021.
As we near the end of 2020, we reflect on the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts of the most active hurricane season on record, and the inequities of the justice gap faced by marginalized communities of color. SLLS’ team of dedicated staff and volunteers rose to the challenge to serve the critical crisis needs of vulnerable people in new and innovative ways. Looking ahead to 2021, we are bracing ourselves to handle the coming tsunami of evictions, to fight for the rights of workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, to safeguard domestic violence survivors, to protect the livelihoods of disaster victims, and much more.
Below are our Top Ten 2020 Significant Accomplishments made possible by your action, support, and leadership. Thank you for being part of our team and we hope you can continue helping us as we face an unknown future in what will undoubtedly be another challenging year. We wish you a happy holiday season, good health, and best wishes in 2021.
Top 10 SLLS 2020 Significant Accomplishments
2020 was a banner year for achieving meaningful COVID-19 related access to court issues through negotiations with 10 Louisiana courts, winning significant appellate cases protecting thousands of vulnerable Louisianians through our eviction defense and child in need of care work, and engaging in successful policy advocacy with government agencies administering housing assistance, child protection programs, and unemployment benefits.
Our 2020 case work for individual households resulted in 25,517 people being helped through free civil legal aid to protect their lives, homes, and families resulting in a direct economic benefit to them of over $20 million. A recent Louisiana Bar Foundation study found that for every $1 invested in civil legal aid programs like SLLS, there is a $9.13 social return on investment.
SLLS’ Community Legal Education Campaign quickly became a trusted and reliable source of important information for people impacted by COVID-19. Since March 2020, our Facebook Live “hot topic” sessions have been watched over 25,000 times and our blog posts have racked up 508,981 page views.
Our new COVID-19 Legal Helpline received 14,758 calls since its launch in March 2020 providing a vital resource to access our services.
On 3/17/2020, we pivoted to a virtual office model and throughout the pandemic and eight named storms this hurricane season, never ceased providing critical civil legal aid to people when they most needed our help.
SLLS was grateful to receive almost $1.5 million in COVID-related grant funding to help us respond to the surge in demand from families and individuals adversely impacted by the pandemic including from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Capital One Bank, the City of New Orleans CARES Act Emergency Solution Grant, Funders for Housing Opportunity, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Hancock Whitney, the Humana Foundation, the Legal Services Corporation, the Louisiana Bar Foundation, the Loyola College of Law Gillis Long Foundation Social Justice Fellowship, Public Allies, Tulane University School of Law’s Lutz Fellowship, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana, and Wells Fargo.
SLLS expanded our staff by adding 20 new staff members to our team to tackle the civil legal needs of low-income people seeking access to justice during the most challenging crisis we have faced since Hurricane Katrina.
We expanded our media footprint going from one feature pre-pandemic to 94 stories since March 2020 in local, state, national, and international publications to raise awareness about the devastating impact of the pandemic on our clients and how civil legal aid is an often overlooked but essential solution to stabilizing communities.
Though prevented from holding in person fundraisers in 2020, this was a record breaking year for essential private support of our work - 247 people generously donated $203,812.76 in amounts ranging from $10 to $100,000.
Last but certainly not least, over 600 pro bono attorneys, volunteer law students, and other community volunteers donated thousands of hours to help people in need access justice.