Can you guess one of the biggest challenges our neighbors face through the pandemic – in order to stay safe in their homes, stay safe from abuse, stay safe at work, and provide for their families? It’s knowing where to go for legal help and getting it efficiently. Too often, our neighbors have wandered from organization to organization seeking help. Critical needs have fallen through the cracks, as a result. It can be different. And we are dedicated to a better path, through the pandemic and beyond. We are passionate about transforming legal aid in the District through a “network approach.” For us, networks are made up of legal aid groups and others that collaborate around particular issues, ensuring a comprehensive, collaborative approach. Each group brings its own special strengths and focus. Networks mean an easier experience and better results for every person who needs civil legal aid in the District. Here is one of our favorite success stories, made possible by your generous support: After much collaboration, the six grantee organizations in our Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program (CLCPP) were scheduled to launch a first-ever “single point of entry” intake on March 16… the same day DC Superior Court closed due to COVID-19. These six organizations rallied to create a single phone line, known as the Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network, for tenants facing eviction – with attorneys available to help, and with each organization taking turns managing calls. Now, as DC Superior Court runs remote hearings, the network ensures an available attorney every day for unrepresented neighbors. From August 2019 – September 2020, they helped more than 3,000 District residents threatened with eviction.
The DC Bar Foundation played a critical role in both convening these organizations, and encouraging and facilitating their collaboration. And, in January 2020, CLCPP celebrated the first unduplicated count of eviction services in DC, which allows us to understand better who is facing eviction, what services individuals are receiving, and the outcomes of those services. Preliminary data from August 2019 – December 2019 shows us that of the tenants we have outcomes data for, 80% were able to stay in their homes. This is major progress at an urgent time: As the pandemic’s effects rage on, rental debt continues to climb. It could result in widespread displacement of people living on low incomes. The network can now work together to develop a proactive plan and response – including addressing root causes like lack of affordable housing.
And emerging now is the Family Law Learning Network, similarly comprised of six grantees and intended to become a place where legal services providers can share ideas, inspiration, lessons learned, and promising practices for family law issues.
None of this was possible just a few years ago. And this level of network partnership didn’t happen overnight. We’re proud to lead on this new path.
In this giving season, I want to thank you for your warm-hearted commitment to our neighbors. Because of you, we are advancing equal access to justice through networks that cooperate, collaborate, and produce better legal results for those in need.
Kirra L. Jarratt
CEO, DC Bar Foundation