Unemployment, financial troubles and eviction are unfortunately some of the realities for an increasing number of people due to blows inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring the importance for people to understand their options.
According to Lynette Martin, Communications and Development Director with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) the agency has seen a 670 percent increase in requests for legal assistance with unemployment and eviction cases. This increased demand inspired SLLS to launch a three month series of lunch hour webinar sessions on legal topics, titled “Know Your Rights.” to begin Oct. 22. The series will be held with support from the St. Charles Parish Library.
Topics include what one can do if facing eviction because of COVID-19 and how to create a will or power of attorney. SLLS will also be providing information about free civil legal aid it offers to income eligible clients.
“COVID has changed so much about how we do community outreach, and we’re looking for ways to reach more people who have been affected by COVID,” Martin said. “We’ve had a massive increase in requests for services with regards to housing units and unemployment benefits … we want to get information out to people about the free legal help that’s available in these trying times. And for people who don’t qualify, we still have other resources that can help as well.”
On Oct. 22, SLLS attorney Steven Reed will host the first of the three webinars, “How can the St. Charles Access to Justice Center help me?” The Access to Justice Center is a self help desk provided by SLLS that offers information that can help clients protect their rights. The second webinar on Nov. 17, also hosted by Reed, covers creating a will and power of attorney and the complex laws that can make that process seem daunting. The third (Dec. 15) will be hosted by SLLS attorney Jessica Sawyer and covers scenarios where a tenant cannot pay their rent following the end of the eviction moratorium.
Each webinar will begin at noon and last for approximately an hour.
“That last one comes up right as the moratorium does, at the end of the year, and we know it’s going to be on people’s minds,” Martin said. “They want to know what do they need to be able to stay in their house going into 2021.”
The feedback Martin and her co-workers are getting indicates many of these questions have long been circulating in those minds, in fact.
“It’s been insane,” Martin said. “A huge, huge increase in calls … and right now, every dollar counts, especially for those who may be evicted. We can often negotiate with landlords to reduce payments or find any way to keep people in their houses. Not having to pay for a lawyer can help a lot in that regard.”
Many people who have never needed legal aid before, in fact, are likely affected.
“People who have never faced unemployment before, or foreclosure, are now facing those things,” Martin said. “They’re having to search for help.”
SLLS is also offering help via a COVID-19 hotline where callers may have questions answered on urgent COVID-19 related legal needs . The number is 1-884-244-7871.
“It’s a 24-7 number, so there’s not always an immediate response. But somebody will get back to you,” said Martin. It’s been mostly housing and unemployment calls so far. For people who can’t wait to get an appointment with our self-help desk and have specific questions about their own situations, the best bet is to call the hotline.’