Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) is a nonprofit law firm that helps people who are unable to afford an attorney when their basic needs like housing, food, healthcare, safety, and income, are at stake. These include landlord/tenant, family law/domestic violence, public benefits, permanency planning, disability, and consumer matters. As such, our offices serve as an advocate and defender of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of Orange County.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, LSHV has been a lifeline to those who have been affected by the crisis and have nowhere else to turn. This pandemic has been a devastating catastrophe for the many Americans who were already living on the edge of poverty and instability. Families who were just getting by are now facing unemployment, potential loss of housing, food insecurity, increased risk of domestic violence, and – for some – the urgent need for a will or healthcare proxy to make medical decisions. Free civil legal services are essential to these people.
Since the start of the pandemic, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley has pivoted our services to focus on the most pressing needs brought on by COVID-19, including unemployment, domestic violence and housing.
Since March of this year, in Orange County alone, LSHV has had more than 2000 inquiries for civil legal assistance. Approximately 2/3 of those have been for housing, benefits or debt related issues, a large number of which are COVID19 related due to loss of household income.
It is currently estimated that 30-40% of families are behind on their rent nationally. After the eviction moratoriums lift, LSHV anticipates that eviction filings will increase substantially. Because of a lack of sufficient funding for free civil legal services such as those provided by LSHV, historically the vast majority of litigants in eviction matters are forced to appear pro se. Many are unable to navigate the legal process without counsel, resulting in evictions and homelessness that could have been avoided. Studies unequivocally show that having legal representation in eviction proceedings such as that which LSHV provides decreases the risk of eviction and homelessness exponentially.
LSHV has only 2 dedicated housing attorneys to cover all of Orange County and only one to assist with public benefits matters. This is woefully insufficient to address the need for civil legal representation in our area. This situation is dire, and without substantial and quick change to increase access to free civil legal services, many families in the coming year will face eviction, go to court unrepresented and face homelessness as a result.
If we can provide any additional data or information on these issues, please do not hesitate to contact us, and thank you for your time.