West Volusians of limited means who need a lawyer now have easier access to the help they need to access medical benefits, settle family-law disputes and more.
Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, a nonprofit organization of lawyers, paralegals and other advocates, welcomed the community to an open house Sept. 28 at its new Downtown DeLand office inside the MainStreet Center, at 101 N. Woodland Blvd., Suite 401.
The law firm handles a variety of noncriminal legal issues, including helping low-income people fight unlawful evictions, helping women and children get restraining orders to protect them from abusers, and making sure people have access to government benefits.
“We’ve just seen a huge need in this community,” said Kimberly Sanchez, executive director of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. “We work with the West Volusia Hospital Authority to do some work with the patients, to make sure that they stay healthy, through legal intervention. We do a lot of domestic-violence work here, as well.”
The firm serves a 12-county area, which includes Volusia County and the broader Orlando metropolitan area.
Sanchez said the group does a wide variety of legal work, including consumer law, family law, housing law and health care.
Sometimes, the different kinds of problems are intertwined.
“I think the best example is someone who continues to go back to the doctor because they have chronic asthma,” Sanchez said. “And then they say, ‘Well, you know, I have mold in my apartment.’”
A lawyer could write a letter to the landlord, asking that the mold be fixed. If that failed, Community Legal Services could help the tenant get out of the unsafe housing environment.
“You need a letter from a lawyer, because then, eventually, if the landlord doesn’t do something about it, you want to move that person out, so it doesn’t affect their credit,” Sanchez said.
The group’s help can be invaluable for its clients, but the work is also fulfilling for the attorneys.
“Every day I get to really help people, the people who are most vulnerable and who really, really need the assistance,” Christina Russo, an attorney who serves as the firm’s manager of public interest and medical-legal partnerships, said.
“They otherwise wouldn’t be able to have a representative if it wasn’t for organizations like ours,” Russo added. “The reactions you get when you finally get somebody the Social Security benefits they’ve been applying for for two or three years … stabilizes their whole life, from top to bottom.”
Generally, to qualify for assistance from Community Legal Services, a person’s income must be less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line. That amounts to $15,175 for a single person, or $31,375 for a family of four, according to the 2018 guidelines.
In certain situations, for certain populations of people, there aren’t income cutoffs.
“We help a lot of different populations that don’t have income qualifications,” Sanchez said. “If you’re over the age of 60, if we have dollars in that county that we can put towards that case, there’s no income requirement. For victims of domestic violence, anywhere in any of our counties, there is no income requirement. For civil-rights issues and housing, no income requirement.”
Community Legal Services does not handle criminal or traffic-related cases.
Those in need of assistance can call Community Legal Services’ Helpline at 1-800-405-1417. The line is answered from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday; 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday.
The line received about 37,000 calls last year.
For more information about Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, visit www.clsmf.org.