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Transforming the Delivery of Civil Legal Aid in DC Through Collaboration

The DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DC LATN) continues to forge ahead with increasing collaboration within and beyond the legal aid community in the District. As we grow the network, our quarterly convenings provide an opportunity to connect and have valuable conversations about issues we face and how we can better serve our stakeholders and communities.

Earlier this month, we held our latest quarterly convening and solidified its purpose to advance a user-centered system, grounded in wellbeing, anti-racism, and anti-poverty, starting with creating a coordinated intake and referral system in DC and evolving into a “network of networks” for connectivity, alignment, and action. It was also the one-year anniversary of DC LATN. I would be remiss if I did not thank those who have joined us on this journey thus far. We are passionate about the Network’s purpose and the initial focus on coordinated intake and referral, and we know that only by forging meaningful collaborations and partnerships beyond our legal aid silo can we make this work.

I know that there is apprehension about what DC LATN is and what we aim to do. During our convening this month, I named some of the tensions that can slow our progress – the elephants in the room. I named frustrations with the process and its pace, questions related to funding and who will get what from whom, diversity of leadership and differences in treatment of our leaders of color, racism and power, and how to ensure community voice is present. I invited fellow conveners to share the tensions they were feeling or had heard about, because if we do not address them, they will be the death of us all.

Part of our conversation focused on discussing upstream work and what it would look like if we could devote some of our resources to l responding to problems before they become a crisis. One of the best ways to conceptualize how this works is to see it in action. One of the areas where we’ve already begun upstream work is in housing, with government, legal aid, and community organizations coming together to prevent housing evictions for DC residents.

We were joined by Beth Mellen of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, Maya Brennan of the DC Council’s office, Lori Leibowitz of Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and Lauren Taylor of the Latino Economic Development Center to talk about upstream dreams and eviction diversion. They presented a comprehensive case study that discussed the problem as it existed, the impetus for going upstream, building a plan of action, and lessons learned.

Through their work, they have put systems in place to reach tenants earlier. Some of that work includes a shared hotline that allows tenants to get connected to legal aid or other resources when facing a potential eviction and paid canvassers who make face-to-face connections with people within their community to find out if they have any housing needs. The presentation served as an example of what it would look like if we broke down silos and began to think creatively and work upstream.

The convening also allowed participants to discuss what could be done differently in their area of practice. Breakout groups focused on family, immigration, domestic violence, sexual assault, and other issues.

We want to continue to grow the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network — for it to be the network of networks. To do that, we ask that participants continue these conversations outside of quarterly convenings. We encourage you to form connections and relationships and to have honest conversations about tensions you are seeing within your work.

To help keep us connected, you can always reach out to our Network Project Manager Michanda Myles with questions, thoughts, or ideas on how to make our work more impactful. Working together, this network can vastly change our communities. Thank you for continuing to show up, serve, and connect.

Gratefully yours,

Kirra L. Jarratt

Chief Executive Officer

DC Bar Foundation


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