Materials and Best Practices of The Legal Aid Society in response to Hurricane Sandy (PDF)
Our thoughts are with all those who have sustained losses as a result of the Hurricane. Our own headquarters building at 199 Water Street in Lower Manhattan has been closed due to damage from the flooding and the 400 Legal Aid staff members who work there have been relocated to work from other Society offices and alternative locations. Nevertheless, in the finest tradition of our organization, beginning in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Legal Aid staff members have been providing comprehensive disaster relief legal assistance at the shelters for homeless and displaced New Yorkers, at the disaster centers, at community-based organizations, and through the Society's Mobile Justice Unit.
The Legal Aid Society has targeted disaster relief services in the most affected communities in Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Staten Island. New Yorkers in need of disaster relief legal assistance can also call The Legal Aid Society's toll-free disaster relief hotline at (888) 663-6880. Legal Aid staff members are assisting affected New Yorkers with FEMA and Disaster Unemployment Insurance claims; replacing medications and access to health care; obtaining Food Stamps and public assistance; landlord-tenant, public housing, federal Section 8 matters, and homeowner/foreclosure help; assistance with loans and other small businesses matters; school transfers and transportation issues; and family law and immigration matters.
Since the storm died down, as of this date, we have assisted thousands of adults and children who have been desperately seeking our civil legal help. Before the Hurricane, because of lack of resources and increasing requests for our assistance due to the economic downturn, we could only help one out of every nine low-income families and individuals who sought our assistance. Since the storm, requests for our civil legal aid have increased exponentially and low-income New Yorkers need our legal help more than ever.
Below is a summary of some of The Legal Aid Society’s legal advocacy and assistance on behalf of families and individuals affected by the storm. We greatly appreciate the support for our services that we are receiving from concerned New Yorkers.
The Legal Aid Society’s Immediate Response To Help New Yorkers In Need
During the storm and in the immediate aftermath, the managers, staff attorneys and support staff of The Legal Aid Society provided extraordinary services to clients. At the request of the Office of Court Administration and the City, we provided representation to adults and juveniles in the arraignment parts that operated on Monday, October 29th, until they closed at 1 pm and then in the parts that resumed operation on Tuesday, October 30th, at 5 pm just hours after the storm had died down. Then on Wednesday morning, October 31st, we resumed court representation at 9 am in criminal, civil and family court matters when the courts reopened across the City.
By Friday, November 2nd, Legal Aid Society staff, using personal tablet computers and cell phones, assisted public housing residents with FEMA and emergency food stamp applications and other legal needs at the Red Hook Initiative, a community-based organization close to the six public housing developments in Red Hook which were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. On Saturday and Sunday, Legal Aid Society staff assisted public housing residents with FEMA and emergency food stamp applications and other legal needs in Coney Island and at the Red Hook Community Center. The Legal Aid Society coordinated this effort with the offices of Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Assemblymember (now Congressman-elect) Hakeem Jeffries, and Councilmember Domenic Recchia.
On Sunday, November 4th, Legal Aid Society staff provided legal assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy by helping with FEMA and food stamp applications at the Miller Field/New Dorp Lane FEMA Center in Staten Island, at the John Jay High School Shelter in Brooklyn, and with New York Communities for Change in Far Rockaway.
Opportunities for Volunteer Assistance
Beginning on November 5th, The Legal Aid Society converted its Access to Benefits Hotline into our Disaster Relief Hotline to assist individuals with answering specific disaster related questions pertaining to, but not limited to: FEMA, housing, insurance, employment, and health-related legal issues. Supervised by Legal Aid staff, public service fellows and volunteers from the private bar have answered hundreds of calls from disaster affected City residents. Individual private law firms have committed to provide staffing for these hotlines on an ongoing basis, adopting a day of the week when their attorneys will volunteer into December, and longer should the need continue. Staff from Legal Aid’s Homeless Rights Project, with the assistance of social work staff, began our regular outreach to the evacuation shelters and hotels to meet with displaced victims of the storm. The social work intervention has been invaluable as many of the traumatized victims are in need of assistance coping with the emotional toll of the devastation before they can begin working towards obtaining the assistance needed for recovery.
On November 6th, our individual outreach sites were established in Red Hook, Coney Island and Rockaway. While the locations have changed, often due to circumstances encountered by our community partners, or City policy regarding staffing of the Restoration Centers, we have been able to maintain a consistent presence in each of these affected communities of the City.
Trainings, Clinics, and Systemic Assistance
In addition to our outreach to individuals in storm impacted areas, Legal Aid has also participated in many programs to assist larger groups affected by the disaster. A few of those efforts are summarized below:
In the aftermath of the Hurricane, The Legal Aid Society has provided extensive legal representation and advocacy on behalf of the thousands of children and adults who have been impacted by the storm. For example, as counsel for the Residents Alliance in New York City Housing Authority developments, The Legal Aid Society has been the leading legal advocate on behalf of tenants without essential services, including electricity, heat, and hot water. Likewise, The Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project has been the leading legal advocate for New Yorkers made homeless by the storm, including families and individuals placed in the evacuation shelters and hotels. Society staff members have also been at the forefront of legal advocacy involving access to disaster relief food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid and FEMA aid as well as other ongoing public benefits and eviction protections. As each day passes, new issues and challenges are presented to the victims of this terrible tragedy.
See selected media reports on The Legal Aid Society’s legal advocacy on behalf of New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy:
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