Hard economic times wreak havoc in all sorts of ways that we don’t always readily think about. I attended Jazz for Justice, a benefit dinner for Legal Services NYC, and was made aware that there are literally thousands of people nationwide who are forced into civil litigation that cannot afford a lawyer. While there are branches of Legal Services in every state, Legal Services NYC is the largest organization in the nation devoted to providing free civil legal services to the poor and assists more than 70,000 low-income New Yorkers annually. From helping families avoid homelessness by blocking unwarranted evictions and foreclosures, to protecting the rights of seniors and people with disabilities and AIDS, to providing legal services to victims of domestic abuse and people in custody battles; LS-NYC provides an invaluable service. I was in tears to hear that even with this resource, only 16% of the people that go to Legal Services are able to receive help due to limited funding! One speaker conveyed that while most landlords in eviction and foreclosure cases show up with lawyers, only 20% or people in Housing Court are able to afford one.
It also came to light that there has been a recent wave of horrible employers trying to deny laid off workers unemployment benefits and thus an increase in people having to utilize Legal Services to take their former employers to court. Interestingly, one case that was revealed involved an employee at (gasp!) my favorite food market, Whole Foods. (Check out the story: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/fired-over-a-tuna-sandwich-and-fighting-back/). The fact that this big overly expensive chain fired a good worker over a tuna sandwich that they were going to throw out anyway and then attempted to cheat him out of his unemployment just really irked me! Fortunately, the Queens branch of Legal Services was able to make sure this gentleman received his benefits. But it sure does cast a real pale over my former unconditional love affair with Whole Foods!
With greedy and mean spirited landlords and employers seemingly at an all time high, thank God for Legal Services!