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Increasing Access to Legal Services for All

August 16th, 2019 Back to Browse Stories
Surabhi Pandit

Surabhi Pandit, Senior Program Officer

The Community Foundation’s grantmaking in the area of human services spans a wide range of issue areas, including homelessness, domestic violence, basic needs, and more. In the last few years, we have made significant investment, through our endowed funds for human services to support legal services at various local nonprofit organizations. Access to legal services can often be a barrier for many low-income individuals and families to live successful lives. Several nonprofit organizations in our region are working hard to find creative and permanent solutions to increasing access to legal services, so that all community members can thrive.

For example, a grant to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 2015 supported a partnership with Street Democracy, an organization that provides legal services through a systemic approach to addressing the root causes of homelessness and poverty. Street Democracy offers individuals who are homeless the opportunity to resolve certain civil infractions and misdemeanors, including warrants, by crediting their personal efforts. These efforts might include job training, the pursuit of an education, drug rehabilitation, and mental health treatment which provides credits toward their outstanding fines, costs and jail time. By addressing all of the issues that led to their homelessness, Street Outreach Court Detroit gives participants the relief and tools they need to prevent a recurring pattern of homelessness. Through these efforts, Street Democracy was able to help their clients save more than double what it cost the organization to provide legal services.

A grant in 2018 was made to support the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center to establish a centralized hub for intake, legal advice, and referral services for individuals and families with immigration-related legal crises in the Detroit area. Community Foundation funding, combined with other philanthropic support, has allowed the organization to increase staff capacity, develop internal process improvements, focus on pro bono development and outreach, and a have greater ability to respond to emergency matters. This project aimed to establish a ‘front door’ for immigration legal services, and its continued success is ensuring that every low-income individual with immigration legal needs in the region who contacts the MIRC office has the ability to speak with an attorney to receive tailored legal advice, assistance, and in many cases full representation at no cost.

Empowering Low-Income Residents

Also in 2018, a grant was made to the Detroit Justice Center to pilot a community legal worker program. Detroit Justice Center hired local community members to advise clients on legal process and remedies, navigate authorities and institutions, provide public education to increase awareness of pertinent laws, and more. The goals of the community legal worker project have been threefold: to increase the quality and quantity of legal services provided to low-income residents and community programs in Detroit; to increase legal empowerment in Detroit’s most vulnerable communities; and to remove barriers to safe housing and economic prosperity for Detroit residents. Community legal works have assisted residents facing property tax foreclosure due to unconstitutional and erroneous property assessments. They will continue to support residents through efforts to increase access for municipal IDs and to navigate water shut offs. The Detroit Justice Center is continuing to expand this program by centering community engagement and resident empowerment in their program design and implementation.

When donors support our endowed funds for human services, it allows us to strategically respond to current needs, and also have flexibility in how we continue to support future needs that may arise. Please use the form below to donate to our endowed human services funds.