Summer 2020 Newsletter
Summer 2020 Newsletter
COVID-19 is shining a light on the many inequities in our society. In many ways, it is no surprise that our clients are bearing the brunt of the public health crisis. Today's renewed civil rights movement reminds us of the myriad systems and biases that harm Black and brown people in our society, leading to poverty, the criminalization of poverty, limited employment opportunities, housing instability, substandard healthcare, and more. This is the perfect storm for the communities that we serve, exacerbating generational injustices and layering them with additional threats to safety and well-being.
Last year, approximately 83% of GBLS’ clients were people of color, and 64% identified as female. When we look at what is happening in our community, with a looming tidal wave of evictions, a consumer debt crisis, underserved children unable to access even distance learning, we know why these problems exist. Our clients aren’t just vulnerable – they’re targeted. They are navigating systems that are stacked against them. And, too often, they have to fight for their rights alone.
Legal aid is an essential service. When GBLS attorneys go to court with a client, they win. These victories keep families in their homes, help ensure access to lifesaving medical care, and enable parents to feed their children. But, most importantly, our clients are grateful for the opportunity to be heard, to be seen, and to be respected, when the system often overlooks them. GBLS has never been more essential than it is right now.
Client success: Staying housed in a crisis
"Joan" and "Michael," a married couple, were referred to GBLS’ Cambridge office two days before their eviction trial for nonpayment of rent. They didn’t know how to defend themselves in court and thus were very likely to be ordered evicted by the judge at trial. Having previously been homeless, Joan and Michael were terrified of losing their apartment.
Because both Joan and Michael struggle with disabilities, they were unable to sustain employment long enough to save money for rent each month. Further, the apartment had many serious issues which exacerbated the symptoms of their disabilities, including plumbing leaks, a malfunctioning stove, poor insulation, and dirt coming up the old pipes into the bathtub.
Joan and Michael had tried unsuccessfully for many months to get the landlord to fix the problems with the apartment, and they did their best to pay their rent on time. However, by the time they came to GBLS for help, they were already $12,000 behind in rent and the bad conditions remained.
Luckily, their GBLS attorney was able to reach the landlord’s attorney right away and got them to agree to postpone the eviction trial so Joan and Michael would have time to apply for rental assistance to cover the back rent. Their attorney also negotiated a significant reduction in the amount due (nearly halving it), based on the terrible conditions, and worked with the landlord’s attorney to get the problems fixed.
With the arrears paid off and the apartment’s conditions fixed, Joan and Michael’s GBLS attorney assisted the couple in applying for a Section 8 voucher for help with their rent so they can stay in their unit. Joan and Michael’s eviction case was dismissed and their rent is now affordable based on their income.
Finally, Joan and Michael’s GBLS attorney helped them apply for food assistance and state disability benefits, so they now have reliable funds for food and a basic monthly income. With the patient and diligent work of GBLS’ staff, Joan and Michael were able to move through this crisis, and with stable, affordable housing and basic benefits in place, they can now focus on their health and plan for their future.
Deputized: GBLS' Newest Leader
When Liliana Ibara was scheduling her first day as GBLS’ new Deputy Director, she thought that starting on a Tuesday would be a nice way of easing into her new role. Little did she – or any of us – know that Tuesday, March 17th, would fall during the first week that GBLS moved to remote operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis, or that her new position would be so urgently needed in helping the organization effectively respond to community (and staff) needs.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Lili, who first came to GBLS almost a decade ago as a volunteer, and then spent 6 years as an attorney in our Employment Law and Consumer Rights Units. Most recently, Lili served as the Managing Director of the Center for Public Interest Advocacy and Collaboration at Northeastern University School of Law, but was drawn back to GBLS by the exciting opportunity to help lead the organization. We sat down with Lili (from afar), to talk to her about what it’s been like to be back, and in the midst of a pandemic.
What compelled your return to GBLS?
GBLS always felt like my "work home," from when I first started as a volunteer in 2011 doing foreclosure cases. I have this distinct memory of sitting in the conference room on the 7th floor, with these super smart advocates who were applying their decades of expertise in housing court to figure out how to save peoples’ homes. They were excitedly talking over each other and scheming about how 19th century property law concepts could be applied to securitized trusts, and I remember thinking, "I don’t know how to do any of this, but I really want to be a part of it."
You’re now in a largely administrative role. Do you miss "lawyering"?
I really thought I would but, so far, I don’t miss it at all – I feel challenged and rewarded by the work that is in front of me now. It’s important to me to feel useful, and when we already have so many talented attorneys on staff doing incredible work, I can get that feeling of usefulness from coordinating and looking for ways to remove roadblocks for them.
Tell us about your time at NUSL. What did you learn while at Northeastern that you can use in your new role?
I was so lucky to have the chance to spend time working on public interest programming at NUSL. It’s always helpful to see how other institutions function and how they approach the same problem you’ve seen before, but maybe from a different angle. I’m seeing a lot of parallels with things like how to harness volunteer energy while maintaining quality, and how to help very busy and focused people make the time to learn technologies that will save time later.
What do you hope to accomplish in your first year as Deputy Director?
Wow. If you had asked me that a few months ago, I might have said it would be nice to eventually improve our technology and staff comfort working outside of the office. Now, with the need to work remotely in response to COVID-19, that is one of my top priorities and is becoming a reality. I would like to see us further systematize our approach to training and professional development and feedback. We have such fantastic leadership in all of those areas and I’d love to make it more cohesive. I also hope we can continue to work on improving our intake and outreach to make sure we are meeting community needs. We have a strong internal team that has already been working on this, and I’m excited to join them in the planning.
How has your "reentry" to GBLS gone so far? What’s it like rejoining the team during these special circumstances?
I cannot imagine what it would feel like if I were watching everything happening right now and not able to be part of helping GBLS meet this challenge. I am grateful that I get to participate and contribute to the significant work GBLS is doing right now, and I have found that in this moment people are extra open to new ideas and re-thinking some of the ways we have always done things. Yes, it would have been lovely to get to go out to coffee with the coworkers I hadn’t yet met, and get to know them better, and to take some time designing systems together, but there are also benefits to spending time on video calls, working together to solve immediate, urgent problems.
Thank you, Lili! We’re glad to have you back to GBLS.
Associates Drive Success
Thank you to the associates who served as captains for this year’s first-ever all-online Associates Drive, and to their colleagues and firms who supported them. The 2020 Drive raised more than ever to support GBLS’ work for survivors of domestic violence - over $540,000!
This year, associates’ efforts were vitally important. The Drive supports GBLS’ work for survivors of domestic violence, a group especially at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders mean that people are forced to quarantine with domestic abusers with little access to resources outside their homes, and already volatile households become even more dangerous. The funds raised in the Associates Drive allow GBLS’ family law attorneys to support clients as society starts to return to normal and survivors can begin to access the resources they need to escape abusive relationships.
Though no one had expected to run an all-online Drive this year, the Associates Drive captains pivoted without missing a beat, adjusting to the change with enthusiasm, hard work, and creativity. Their colleagues and law firms did the same, resulting in the most successful Associates Drive ever. Thank you to everyone who volunteered, donated, and otherwise helped to make the Drive a success this year!
GBLS in the news
GBLS’ attorneys and advocates are some of the best poverty lawyers in the country, providing valuable expertise to clients, community partners, legislators, and the public. Here are just some of their many newsworthy efforts and media moments over the past few months:
"As Americans faced layoffs and lost wages, student loan companies kept going to court to collect." The Washington Post, 3 April 2020
"The BPDA: Paved and Confused." Boston Magazine, 10 April 2020
"Guatemalan man held by ICE released from NH jail over COVID-19 concerns." New Hampshire Union Leader, 13 April 2020
"Mass Legislature approves measures to protect residents from evictions & foreclosures during COVID-19 crisis." Framingham Source, 23 April 2020
"Virus sparks call to pump the breaks on debt suits." Law 360, 26 April 2020
"Eviction, Foreclosure Moratorium Explained." BNN News, 4 May 2020
"Food stamp demand surges amid pandemic." The Eagle Tribune, 20 May 2020
"Unemployment portal now in multiple languages, over two months into coronavirus pandemic." Commonwealth Magazine, 27 May 2020
Staff has also participated in numerous panels and townhalls with legislators and community partners to help educate the public about their rights during the pandemic and beyond. And we’re proud to share the work of two GBLS attorneys who recently authored their own articles:
Housing attorney Laticia Walker-Simpson wrote "Life Raft or Quicksand? Emergency Assistance's Role in Greater Boston's Homelessness Crisis," published in the Boston Bar Journal.
Elder law attorney Danielle Johnson wrote "Walk in My Shoes: A Day in the Life of a Black Woman Attorney" for the Boston Bar Journal, and was interviewed on the same topic by the Boston Globe.
Greater Boston Legal Services provides free assistance in civil legal matters to low-income families and individuals in the Greater Boston area, helping people access the basic necessities of life, including shelter, healthcare, and safety from abuse.