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Each year, SLLS supporters like you help over 25,000 families in our area break down legal barriers to health, safety, housing, and much more. This year, the fight for fairness needs your help more than ever. With schools closed and businesses shuttering doors, too many low-income people, already struggling to make ends meet, have lost their jobs or are unable to work. These workers, already stressed by concerns of how to keep their families healthy and safe, now have to also worry about whether they can keep a roof over their heads, whether their family will have enough food to eat, and whether they can access the civil justice system to protect them when they most need it. SLLS is at the forefront of responding to these needs.
As stay-at-home orders are lifting, SLLS is preparing to defend against an onslaught of eviction proceedings, to protect vulnerable workers whose unemployment benefits are threatened, to ensure that low-income families in our area can access health care, food, and other essentials.
We hope you will join the fight for fairness by investing in civil legal aid at www.slls.org/donations.
Social distancing is vital for reducing the spread of Covid-19. However, with tens of thousands of people in our area losing employment because of the pandemic, many low-income workers were at risk of becoming homeless - right at the time when Covid-19 was rampaging through our communities. Working with partner agencies, SLLS advocated for and achieved moratoria on evictions and foreclosures and suspensions of housing voucher terminations and foreclosure sales. As a result, most tenants and homeowners in our area can safely stay at home during the pandemic.
However, despite these tenant protections, many landlords have tried to illegally evict tenants who had lost income and were unable to pay rent in April or May. SLLS has received local and national accolades for its work protecting the homes and health of these tenants.
For example, we represented Mr. Bobby Parker (shown to the right) a sanitation worker whose landlord tried to evict him for paying his rent four days late. Mr. Parker came home one day and discovered his landlord had illegally locked him out of his apartment. With nowhere else to go, Mr. Parker had no choice but to sleep on the street. Our attorneys helped Mr. Parker obtain a court order, instructing Mr. Parker's landlord to change the locks back and to let Mr. Parker into his apartment. Initially, despite the court order, the landlord stood her ground and refused to let Mr. Parker re-enter his apartment. Learn more about Mr. Parker's story and how SLLS helped Mr. Parker regain access to his home at https://www.nola.com/news/coronavirus/article_e76d89a4-7aca-11ea-82a6-ab394f0b02d2.html
Links to some of the other news stories of our work to protect tenants:
"Landlords are Illegally Evicting Tenants During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Lawyers Fear a "Tsunami" of Evictions when State Moratoriums End" https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/coronavirus-illegal-evictions-moratorium-rent-lawyer-aid?fbclid=IwAR2HMl4gMw4tNHScwiHRezFVPliSi5UaIjRQxme5mXDLuJl6VKhYcUd6bHQ
"Against Federal Protection Laws, Algiers Tenants Receive Eviction Notice" https://www.wwltv.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/against-federal-protection-laws-algiers-tenants-receive-eviction-notice/289-92359e57-e259-40bc-9548-2906f7ed7ead?fbclid=IwAR2IRBUIWt_ov9KXIzI4C2tsNqE02fB5QN8RXS6jvC20NkBrylWOnrAWAoo
"Renters Are Being Forced from their Homes Despite Eviction Moratoriums Meant to Protect Them" https://time.com/5820634/evictions-coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR05IUQZPMHreDohEwWttLC7N1E5ZL8K_NWj2fcXeCnvpXjqQixx8buzQNA
Kelly* had endured years of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend - he berated her, beat her, and choked her. In the fall of 2019, when she was several months pregnant with their child, he threatened to kill her. In fear for her and her baby's lives, she called the police and finally broke off the relationship. Though she did not list her abuser on her baby's birth certificate, she still believed it was important for her child to have a relationship with his father so she allowed him to have limited visitation with her baby. But when the Governor issued his stay at home order in response to Covid-19, Kelly decided the safest choice for her baby was to keep him with her until the order lifted. In April, with the stay at home order still in place, her child's father asked to come to her house to deliver her child a present. But as soon as he arrived, he snatched her child and fled. He refused to answer her phone calls or respond to any of her attempts to find or contact him. She called the police, but they would not help. They told her they couldn't do anything for her without a restraining order from the court. With courts open to only emergency matters like these, we helped Kelly obtain a temporary restraining order and finally get her baby safely returned to her.
We met Mark* through our legal clinic at the VA Hospital in New Orleans (a project made possible by support from the New Orleans Bar Association.) Mark was a dedicated veteran who had served in the Army and the National Guard for over a decade. Now in his 50s, his physical health started to fail, making it harder for him to manage the symptoms of his service-connected PTSD. He could no longer hold a job. He needed help getting disability benefits. In early 2020, Social Security gave Mark a hearing date - May 12, 2020. Mark was anxious for his hearing date to arrive. He needed money to pay for food and medications. But then, as the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent, the Social Security Administration decided to postpone all in-person hearings. Mark didn't know what to do. He couldn't wait several months more for any income. Arguing that Mark was too disabled to work and that an in-person hearing should not be necessary, the SLLS Veterans Justice Fellow asked the judge to make a decision as soon as possible before the hearing. Less than a week later, we received exciting news that the judge had approved Mark's case - awarding him over $4,000 in back benefits and nearly $800 in monthly income. But still Mark was worried. Even with our help, because of delays caused by Covid-19, it could take months to get the benefits the judge found him entitled to. Our Veterans Justice Fellow had an idea. She knew that Mark had not earned enough to file taxes in several years. She asked Mark if he knew about federal Covid-19 economic stimulus payments or how to get them. He did not. So, she helped him complete the IRS Non-filers form online so that he could receive the $1,200 economic stimulus payment he is qualified to receive.
After spending months balancing several part-time jobs, Sharon* was excited to start new a full time job in January 2020. She was most excited about being able to spend more with her son and her three grandchildren who lived with her. She was relieved that she would finally be earning enough money to meet her family’s monthly expenses. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit our state. In April 2020, Sharon was laid off. She immediately applied for unemployment benefits thinking that those benefits would provide enough income to stabilize her family until she could get back to work. Weeks passed without any word on the status of her application. When she checked her application status online, she was shocked to find had been “disqualified”.
Why? For a short time in 2019, Sharon had been the primary caregiver for her youngest grandchild. During that time, the unemployment office told her that she couldn’t get benefits because she was unavailable to work when she was providing full-time childcare. Due to a technical glitch, the Unemployment Office had failed to lift the disqualification when she resumed working in January 2020. Sharon panicked. She waited for hours on the phone with the Unemployment Office, but still could not get the problem fixed. So she called SLLS. Thanks to our advocacy, within two days of her contacting us, the Unemployment Office removed Sharon’s disqualification and approved her for unemployment benefits. She received both state and federal CARES ACT benefits going all the way back to the week when she first applied. Thanks to our attorneys, Sharon now has the income she needs to keep herself and her grandchildren safe through the pandemic.
When Eliza* called our office in April 2020, she was desperate. She was running out of food and was worried her five-year-old son would go hungry. Throughout the pandemic, Eliza was working at a fast food restaurant. But her income wasn’t enough to fully support her family. Thankfully, food stamp benefits helped fill the gaps until to her surprise and dismay, her benefits suddenly stopped. Eliza’s oldest daughter had tragically died in January. Still struggling with the grief, she contacted the food stamp office to let them know about the change in her family size. She assumed she did everything right because she received benefits in February. But then, in March, as the Covid-19 pandemic descended on Louisiana, her benefits stopped. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. Making an already stressful situation worse, she didn’t have a telephone or access to the internet. She couldn’t use the phone at work and tie it up for hours waiting on hold with the food stamps office. Normally, she would walk in to the food stamps office to ask for help, but with food stamp offices around the state closed due to Covid-19, she didn’t know what to do. So, she contacted SLLS. We advocated for Eliza and her family with the food stamps office. With our help, the food stamps office fixed the technical glitch that had suddenly and wrongfully stopped her food stamps. Now Eliza’s family has access to food to help them stay healthy through the pandemic.
In collaboration with government and nonprofit partners, SLLS has helped tens of thousands in our state understand and fight for their own rights during the Covid-19 Pandemic. We've also hosted a number of "Know Your Rights" trainings for the public on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SLLSHelps/videos/?ref=page_internal
*Names, images, and other details were changed to protect the identity of our clients.