Supporting Communities with Disaster Resilience Lawyering
How Attorneys Help in the Community
This blog post originally appeared at https://www.equaljusticeworks.org/news/supporting-communities-with-disaster-resilience-lawyering/, where you can view the full article.
We want to feature the different resources under the Texas Disaster Legal Help network to assist with recovery efforts. The Equal Justice Network not only places attorneys with the three legal aid organizations that bring you TDLH, but they also place them with partner agencies like Disability Rights Texas, whose fellow, Stephanie Duke, provides valuable information on this month’s TDLH podcast titled “Disability Rights: Equal Access After a Disaster.”
Lawyers play a critical role in helping communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. Disasters, whether natural, human-made, or pandemic, disproportionally affect people who have already been marginalized—those who struggle with physical and mental disabilities; people of color; and low-income individuals and families who don’t have the resources to travel, evacuate, repair their homes, or access an attorney.
This past year—with the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a heightened hurricane season, intense winter storms, and much of the west coast being fiercely ablaze—has been especially devastating for low-income families. Not only has the crisis of COVID-19 created its own civil legal issues such as mass evictions, unemployment, and ballooning debt. It has also significantly hindered the ability of disaster survivors to recover after a natural disaster. We see, in real-time, the need for both preparedness and rapid response.
As the frequency and severity of disasters continue to rise, lawyers play a critical role in improving preparedness by working with community members and leaders to avoid or mitigate disaster-related legal challenges.
Building a strong pipeline of legal talent committed to equal access to justice will advance a more equitable recovery period after disasters and create more resilient communities in the future.
In 2020, Equal Justice Works launched the Disaster Resilience Program to help fulfill the need for critical legal assistance before, during, and after disasters. Through the program, they have mobilized an initial cohort of six lawyers (Fellows) to work at legal services organizations in Texas and Florida to assist individuals and families with their COVID-19 related legal issues. The Fellows are also helping these individuals and families recover from the abundance of natural disasters they have experienced while building stronger and more resilient communities for the future.
Fellows accomplish more when they work together. What makes the cohort Fellowships model unique is that program participants have the opportunity to work alongside each other and share resources with one another so that they can be more effective advocates in disaster law. The model also allows for resource-sharing among community partners and national organizations focused on disaster response and recovery.
“The Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program facilitates the ability of Fellows to concentrate on a specific marginalized population. But more importantly, it facilitates the cross-collaboration among Fellows to uphold the rule of law for all populations as we grow and learn from each other’s strengths or specialization,” said Stephanie Duke, Equal Justice Works Fellow.
The Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program facilitates the ability of Fellows to concentrate on a specific marginalized population. But more importantly, it facilitates the cross-collaboration among Fellows to uphold the rule of law for all populations as we grow and learn from each other’s strengths or specialization.
In the first half of the program alone, these six Fellows alone served 307 individuals (90% were below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines), secured more than $252,057 in economic benefits on behalf of their clients, conducted outreach and educational training in response to COVID-19 and disaster preparedness, and engaged in numerous public service and leadership development opportunities.
The legal needs of disaster survivors are complex and difficult to navigate alone. The Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program is committed to ensuring that all disaster survivors have an equitable recovery and are resilient for the future, not just those who can afford an attorney.
You, too, can also assist disaster survivors in need. Click Volunteer on the Texas Disaster Legal Help homepage to sign up today!