Executive Director’s Blog, March 2020

Categories: eNewsletter Story, Homepage, News

Genevieve Richardson, Executive Director“History will judge societies and governments and their institutions, not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”  Cesar Chavez


Dear friend of BayLegal,

I hope this note finds you and your loved ones safe and in good health.

Since our February eNewsletter, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our region and world in ways that we cannot yet comprehend.  In addition to the urgency of protecting the health of our communities from this virus, it has intensified the preexisting crisis of poverty, homelessness, economic disparity and social inequality in our country—itself a public health crisis. 

As the strain on our basic safety-net systems grows, so does the isolation of our client communities who too often face economic, housing, health, and safety challenges alone, even during “normal” times.  Now especially, our society needs strategies that use the civil legal justice system to break the cycles of family and community poverty. Like us I am sure many of you already knew, and are seeing now with a newly urgent clarity during this current public health emergency, that these strategies are a critical aspect of health and safety for all of us.

BayLegal continues to be at the forefront, doing all we can to ensure that our society, our government and our institutions respond to the needs of our clients. Our COVID-19 advocacy page provides an updated list of our work with public agencies and community partners to slow or stop evictions, place a moratorium on non-safety related vehicle tows, pause consumer and government debt collections, and ease access to key sources of emergency assistance.  We expanded our legal advice hotline capabilities and developed new virtual clinics and services. Our entire staff of 150+ individuals is playing their part to ensure that everyone in need is able to connect to the services and advocacy most important to them. 

While nothing prepared any of us for the unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves, BayLegal is adept at quickly determining how we continue and adjust our work to best support our clients.  I am especially proud of the speed in which everyone at BayLegal transitioned to working remotely.  Though critically important for the health and welfare of our clients, staff and community, the decision to close our physical doors and discontinue our mobile advocacy in the community was extremely difficult.  But the decision to move to remote services was easier knowing that our staff would stop at nothing to advocate for our clients and support each other in this crisis.  It was also eased by the fact we have long understood our critical role in disaster response and have taken critical steps to be more prepared.  While we navigate this ever-evolving world, we’ll face more challenges, learn more lessons, and need more partners and support. But we will get through it together. 

As we continue our 20th Anniversary Storytelling Project, exploring BayLegal’s history, it is particularly timely that we focus this month on the beginnings and growth of our Legal Advice Line (LAL).  To address the barriers created by COVID-19 today, and the necessity of social distancing, we are relying on the evolution of our centralized legal advice hotline, deliberately modeled and designed to address the barriers of transportation (distance), language, and location to ensure that we can continue to reach our clients throughout the region in order to advocate for their rights.  Since the creation of our LAL, we have leveraged our expertise to establish our Health Consumer Center and Tenants’ Rights Line, all of which are increasing capacity and levels of services at this time. Originally thought necessary to respond to natural disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires, we fortunately moved our hotlines to a cloud-based call center three years ago, allowing for ongoing client service even under circumstances when attorneys cannot be physically present in one or any of our offices.

Another important part of BayLegal’s evolution as a regional firm committed to addressing barriers and being responsive to our clients’ needs, has been the integration of social workers into our work and team.  As I am sure you will agree after reading their interviews, BayLegal’s social workers are an invaluable addition to the depth of support we offer our clients. I am especially grateful to them today for their increased support to our clients, and the additional support to our attorneys and advocates as they work to care for themselves while helping clients facing elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and trauma related to the pandemic.

We are here to help and to partner with you – please visit and share our main COVID-19 resource page which has the most current updates on our services, access to online and phone help, and community resources for clients and advocates. That page also includes links to dedicated pages for court and public agency closures and changes in procedure, as well as changes impacting clients in specific areas of our practice.

I am grateful for everyone reading this eNews issue—current and former clients, staff and board members, community partners, donors, and fellow advocates. None of this is possible without our partners and your continued support.  I cannot think of a time when the commitment of each of you has meant more, nor been as urgently needed. Thank you!

Working together for justice,

Genevieve Richardson signature

 

 

 

Genevieve Richardson, Executive Director

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