Our Most Vulnerable Residents Need Access to Legal Representation
Home. In just four letters, that word captures so much of what we hold dear: safety and security, shelter and stability, identity and belonging. Homes are the physical, emotional and financial foundations of our families, our communities and our society at large. As such, moving and changing homes is often one of the most stressful and impactful events in our lives. The loss of a home — whether to fire, flood, hurricane or otherwise — is not just stressful and impactful, it can be traumatic. It has a domino effect, creating instability for the entire family: uprooting lives, forcing changes in schools and employment, and severing the support networks that bind us together.
Today, we face a potential communitywide loss of homes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction moratorium is set to expire on July 31. We are about to face a glut of evictions that threatens to overwhelm our legal system, public resources and fellow South Floridians. These impending evictions will lead to increased homelessness, hospitalizations, academic struggles and unemployment rates. It will also jeopardize our neighbors’ access to basics necessities like food, water, shelter and utilities. In order to minimize the effects of thousands of evictions, tenants need access to robust legal representation to protect their legal rights, work out a way to remain in their homes, and, if necessary, smoothly transition to their new homes.
Legal Aid Service of Broward County provides free civil legal services to low-income residents of Broward County. Providing access to legal representation for those in need is a time-honored tradition in our community. For many, the legal process is daunting and confusing, and the tenants most at risk of losing their homes to eviction are the very people who most need the protection afforded by our legal system. Legal Aid Service of Broward County has long been this community’s guide through the justice system, especially for those members of our community most in need.
We at Legal Aid Service of Broward County have already seen a substantial increase in eviction related cases during the pandemic. As an example, since January 2021, our eviction hotline has received an average of 550 calls per month. During this time, we have had the privilege of working with many of our community’s most vulnerable residents, knowing firsthand that without access to the services that Legal Aid and other organizations provide, many of our fellow residents would be lost in the system, denied justice, and left homeless
Our attorneys address client needs like landlord-tenant issues and foreclosure prevention along with other areas of practice that overlap with these issues. The attorneys then determine the best way to address each client’s needs by providing advice and counsel, limited action, full representation or other advocacy. Yet, with the number of people in need of civil legal services in our county currently exceeding staff and resources, many of those who need legal representation will not get it.
As we march toward the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, many of us still face hurdles in this journey. Although we can start to see a brighter post-COVID world, we also know that our sick, elderly, veterans, victims of crime and other vulnerable populations have a long road to full recovery. The attorneys at Legal Aid Service of Broward County are committed to helping our neighbors reach the end of that road by working at maximum capacity, often with double or triple what would be considered a normal or reasonable caseload.
When the eviction moratorium comes to an end, the number of those in need will dramatically increase. Now, more than ever, we need our community to come together to support our Legal Aid program that provides the necessary and critical legal services that help our most vulnerable. For more information or to get involved, I encourage you to go to browardlegalaid.org.