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AmeriCorps volunteers provide critically needed civil legal services

By Ellen Shachter, cambridge.wickedlocal.com

122 days ago   Article ID# 4132503
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AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts

LEXINGTON, MASSACHUSETTS (cambridge.wickedlocal.com) - The first subpoena that Colleen Hibbert-Kapler ever drafted and served was on behalf of a struggling single mother of three young children whose landlord was trying to wrongfully evict the family from their apartment in the dead of winter.

At the time, Hibbert-Kapler, a recent Fordham University law school graduate, was gaining valuable professional experience as a member of AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts. The program places young attorneys and legal advocates in the state’s civil legal aid organizations, which help low-income residents facing noncriminal legal crises, for a year of service. Working with myself and other supervisors at Greater Boston Legal Services’s Cambridge and Somerville office, Hibbert-Kapler succeeded in getting the case dismissed, securing her client’s housing and family stability.

That is, until the landlord tried to evict the woman and her family again, claiming that her two-bedroom apartment had too many occupants. At her client’s request, Hibbert-Kapler took the case to mediation, and the parties reached an agreement that allowed the client and her family to remain in their home through the end of year and to receive a positive reference from the landlord for a new apartment. With Hibbert-Kapler’s assistance, the family had the stability and time needed to find a more suitable place to live.

Helping this family of four avoid homelessness likely saved the state funds it would otherwise have had to spend on safety net services. The Boston Bar Association’s 2014 report Investing in Justice estimates that in eviction and foreclosure cases, the state saves $2.69 in public services related to homelessness for every $1 spent on civil legal aid. That adds up quickly, considering the state’s high rate of family homelessness.

Now, ALA-Massachusetts is in jeopardy, as the Trump administration seeks to eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers the AmeriCorps program. It is a breathtakingly shortsighted proposal.

ALA-Massachusetts participants like Hibbert-Kapler, who served four years in the program, and our current pool of highly dedicated AmeriCorps volunteers, help compensate for our woefully underfunded civil legal aid system. Since the program’s launch in 2005, 250 participants have completed 500,000 service hours at civil legal aid organizations around the state, helping low-income people in crisis escape domestic violence, access veterans’ services, avoid home foreclosure and resolve other legal issues, thus preventing them from sliding further into the cycle of poverty.

ALA-Massachusetts advocates work full time for an annual $21,500 stipend and a $5,575 education award upon completion of their service year. Law school graduates can also take advantage of a loan forbearance program in which the federal government will pay the accrued interest on their student loans upon completion of their service.

In exchange, service-minded young people receive unique, career-shaping professional experience while making a tangible difference in people’s lives. Hibbert-Kapler, for example, is now a staff attorney at South Coastal Counties Legal Services, the organization that initiated ALA-Massachusetts. While the program is certainly a pipeline to civil legal aid careers, other alumni have gone on to jobs at the U.S. Department of Justice, Capitol Hill and the United Nations.

ALA-Massachusetts greatly benefits its participants and the clients they serve -- and by extension, all Massachusetts taxpayers. If the Trump administration has its way, low-income families won’t be the only ones left out in the cold.

Copyright 2017 cambridge.wickedlocal.com   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 122 days ago   Article ID# 4132503

AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts    Visit Website

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