Diverse Populations

An effective legal aid organization is well-known and is trusted by the low-income communities that it serves. It is engaged with all segments of the low-income community, including those living in geographically isolated areas, those with access difficulties, and those who have limited English proficiency.

Legal aid organizations should take steps to ensure that they are reaching the underserved populations in their service areas through a variety of means, such as:

  • Information on a website
  • Social media
  • Outreach events
  • Legal education and clinics at locations that these populations access the most
A Resource Model: Mobile Clinics

Georgia's Mobile Law Units place two lawyers with laptops in community areas, where they provide legal information and help to the elderly, residents with limited English proficiency, and low-income groups in rural Georgia.

During the clinic, Georgia Legal Services Program and Atlanta Legal Aid Society staff help clients find legal information and documents on Georgia legal aid's statewide website. If the client requires extended services, staff conduct intake on site and refer the individual to an attorney at the nearest legal aid office for additional help.

Elderly

Low-income individuals age 60 and older face different legal issues. The most common are:

  • Guardianship issues that arise when family members or a nursing home believe an elderly person is no longer capable of handling their personal and financial affairs
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) overpayment cases that arise when the Social Security Administration alleges that it paid too much money to an individual because the individual was employed while receiving SSI or for other reasons may have received more than the correct amount
  • Reverse mortgage issues that arise when an elderly person has borrowed against the equity in the home
  • Home equity stripping scams and foreclosure rescue scams that result in the elderly "selling" their home for the price of a loan rather than refinancing in order to save the home
  • Consumer cases in which creditors, debt buyers, or scammers attempt to attach income that is protected from collection such as Social Security

Farm Workers

The Migration Policy Institute created an interactive map on immigrant populations that provides national and state-by-state data comparisons from the 1990 and 2000 censuses and the 2011 American Community Survey.

Each state has four fact sheets:

  1. Demographics and social
  2. Language and education
  3. Workforce
  4. Income and poverty

Our Migrant Service Policy Letter, drafted in June 2000, reconfirms expectations for migrant legal services projects. The letter establishes the responsibilities assigned to migrant projects and basic field grants in addition to establishing the expectations for an effective farm worker program.

In order to fully serve client needs, organizations are expected to:

  • Have high-quality, experienced, and informed advocates
  • Be well managed
  • Accomplish effective outreach
  • Accomplish effective community legal education for farm workers
  • Have effective support for advocacy
  • Have effective capacity for training
  • Be part of a coordinated system of service with a capacity to provide a full range of service to farm workers

Residents of Rural Areas

In 2003, LSC organized the Rural Issues and Delivery Symposium Conference to serve as a starting point to facilitate and support the development of a more integrated and networked rural delivery system to overcome barriers encountered by those in rural areas.

"A Report on Rural Issues and Delivery" highlights the issues and barriers discussed at the conference. Attendees also discussed noteworthy policies and projects, recognizing that knowledge sharing through replicating best practices can contribute to improving the delivery of legal aid in geographically isolated areas.

View resources and projects from legal aid organizations addressing access to justice in rural areas.

Homeless

The U.S. Conference of Mayors releases an annual report titled "Hunger and Homelessness Survey: A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities." The 2015 report is the result of a survey of 22 cities to determine the extent and causes of hunger and homelessness and provide an overview of the emergency food assistance and homeless services provided between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015.

Key findings included:

  • Sixty-six percent of the survey cities reported that requests for emergency food assistance increased over the past year
  • The total number of homeless persons increased across the survey cities by an average of 1.6 percent
  • City officials identified lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness among families with children, followed by poverty, unemployment, and low-paying jobs

Legal Aid on Wheels: A Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Initiative Helps Hawaii’s Homeless Population

Serving a service area with one of the highest per capita rates of homelessness—paired with the highest per capita living costs—in the country, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii’s (LASH’s) homeless outreach program fills a critical need.

The program provides holistic civil legal services to Hawaii’s homeless population, which totaled 7,921 people in 2015. Its services address family, consumer, housing, immigration, and public benefits concerns, but most of the cases focus on Social Security benefits and identification documentation.

The homeless outreach program team includes one managing attorney, one senior attorney, two paralegals, and one AmeriCorps volunteer. What’s unique about the team is how they work and assist clients—on wheels. All of the staff are fully remote—though they might come into one of LASH’s offices once a week—and drive mostly around Oahu, stopping at various locations such as homeless shelters, health centers, recovery centers, and veteran services sites.

At these sites, the outreach team conducts intake and completes brief services, such as Social Security applications and appeals. By meeting potential clients at these common points of contact, the outreach team fosters trust and accessibility for individuals who may have barriers to visit LASH’s main offices. If the team doesn’t come to them, it’s possible the client would never or would put off getting the help they need to confront their legal situation.

According to a LASH senior attorney in a Honolulu Star Adviser article, “Typically [homeless people] are not able to show up for a court hearing. They don’t have the money to get there. They often don’t have identification to get into the building if they need that. And sometimes, the reality is they don’t remember what day or time their hearing is. They are just trying to focus on basic needs—how they are going to eat today and to keep their stuff safe when they go to the bathroom.”

LASH staff members at work in the field.

LASH staff members at work in the field.

While the staff’s method of transportation is their own vehicles, LASH pays for access to hot spots, their phones, computers, and other necessary technology. Sometimes they are assisted by staff from community health centers, who join for ride-alongs and provide medical assistance while the LASH staff member provides legal assistance. This partnership has been in place since the beginning of the program, acting as an effective, mobile alternative to the more common medical-legal partnerships, which are set up across the country.

Homelessness in Hawaii is a persistent issue, but with efforts such as LASH’s homeless outreach program that meet clients where they are, the cycle of homelessness can be broken for many.

Fresh Opportunity Program

When it became clear that persistent barriers to shelter and employment often extended beyond financial constraints, Central Jersey Legal Services partnered with the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness to form the Fresh Opportunity Program in 2010. 

The program has two principle goals:

  1. Removing court-imposed barriers to shelter and employment when the barrier arises from non-felony offenses
  2. Connecting clients to a coordinated system that will transition the homeless into effective case management and support services where needed

The Code Blue Program

In an effort to provide shelter for the homeless during cold winter months, Central Jersey Legal Services established the Code Blue Program.

In addition to trying to shelter the homeless and prevent deaths from hypothermia during winter months, Code Blue sought to get as many homeless into the service network as possible and get eligible homeless individuals approved for state-funded welfare and emergency assistance.

During the cold season, county officials, Central Jersey Legal Services staff, and shelter providers held biweekly meetings to work out issues and help improve the program.

Veterans

Veterans and their families face unique circumstances, which can become larger legal issues when they are disabled or homeless. LSC-funded legal aid organizations have developed several notable initiatives to serve veterans and their families.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance, in partnership with Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, created StatesideLegal.org, a free resource for low-income military members, veterans, and their families. The website offers information on topics such as disability benefits, employment, and legal protections for service members confronted with foreclosure proceedings.

Representing Washington Veterans: Basic Legal and Cultural Concepts

The NorthWest Justice Project developed "Representing Washington Veterans: Basic Legal and Cultural Concepts" as a comprehensive resource for attorneys working with veterans. The 2012 manual provides background information on qualifying military service, an explanation of military ranks, and techniques for working with veterans.

Specific legal information is provided regarding the federal and state department of affairs, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health care, and appealing VHA and Veterans Benefits Administration decisions.

Kentucky Corps of Advocates for Veterans

To help resolve veterans' legal issues in a collaborative, comprehensive effort, Legal Aid Society founded the Kentucky Corps of Advocates for Veterans (KCAV) in 2011 with three objectives:

  1. Provide free civil legal representation to low-income veterans who cannot otherwise afford an attorney
  2. Recruit and train volunteer attorneys to help meet the legal needs of veterans
  3. Use technology and a network of community partnerships to ensure that low-income veterans who need help are finding it

KCAV has been successful in recruiting and training volunteer attorneys in the Louisville area, and has helped more than 500 veterans resolve their civil legal problems.

Military and Veterans Advocacy Resource

In response to the growing need for legal assistance among veterans, Georgia Legal Services partnered with the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project to create the Military Legal Assistance Program website, which serves as an online resource to support lawyers working with veterans and service members.

The website provides lawyers with support materials, online training, and other resources to help them assist veterans and service members in Georgia with civil legal problems. The website was also used to help place specific cases with pro bono attorneys.

Non-English Speakers

Legal aid organizations should have staff with the cultural competency and language capacity to serve low-income people in their service area who speak a language other than English or who have limited English proficiency.

A good limited English proficiency plan lays out procedures for assisting those who speak other languages and informs staff of the procedures for providing adequate interpretation and translation services.

View resources and projects about language access.