Tips For Assisting Disaster Survivors
The legal needs that arise during and in the wake of a disaster are varied and, sometimes, complex. This can be a very stressful time for clients, so here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when working with individuals who have been affected by a disaster:
- Individuals may have limited access to different types of communications, and flexibility is recommended. For example, an individual may not have an email account or unlimited access to the internet for virtual meetings; or an individual may have limited minutes on their cell phone plan. If an individual is displaced and currently residing in a shelter or other temporary accommodations, they may not be able to charge their phone.
- Recognize that Lack of Response Does Not Equal Lack of Interest/Commitment to their Matter - Individuals affected by a disaster are generally in survival mode, and they may be addressing other needs that are a higher priority for their situation, resulting in a slower response time to their legal matter. Again, flexibility and patience is recommended. If there is continued non-responsiveness, work with the legal aid provider for appropriate next steps.
- Work with Their Limited Availability - Individuals may not have the same flexibility in their schedule for meetings or phone calls. Some individuals will have hourly work schedules, from which they cannot take paid time-off, or they do not have access to child care. Keep in mind that,on occasion, an individual may make an appointment, but due to work constraints is not able to attend and they may not be able to call you prior tothe appointment to cancel.
- Manage Expectations - For many low-income individuals, this may be the first time that they have worked with an attorney, and their expectations can vary widely. Take the time to manage their expectations from your availability and level of assistance to the type of outcome that they hope to achieve.
- Provide Trauma-Informed Advocacy - Survivors of disaster have experienced a trauma, which may have taken a mental toll on the individual. When working with a survivor, be mindful of asking the individual to “relive” the experience multiple times. Reach out to the legal aid provider for assistance with individuals experiencing trauma or other mental health concerns.
Belinda J. Martinez/Staff Attorney/Lone Star Legal Aid