Grantee Stories

March 2024

SERVING THE WHOLE COMMUNITY – TACOMAPROBONO’S OUTREACH PARTNERSHIPS AND RESOURCE NAVIGATOR PROGRAM BREAKS ACCESS BARRIERS AND EXPANDS ACCESS TO HOLISTIC, INTEGRATED SERVICES

Pierce County is an extremely diverse place, not only in terms of its unique population but also as an area with both large and growing urban areas (Tacoma, Lakewood) and many smaller rural communities which are geographically remote and isolated due to lack of public transportation, from Key Peninsula to Mt. Rainier. 

As a result of the success of outreach partnerships built out of necessity during the pandemic with the Pierce County Library System, Tacoma Public Libraries, and other community centers to bring access to landlord-tenant legal advice and much-needed rental assistance into remote communities, Tacomaprobono Community Lawyers is continuing to develop and expand outreach as increasingly important part of its service delivery model.

Developing these partnerships has allowed our staff to use a ‘Legal Aid Pop-Up’ model to get out into the community to learn first-hand about what’s needed directly from people experiencing problems and the community organizations serving them, and to take advantage of trusted, supportive locations to meet people where they live. Continuing to develop new partnerships and scheduling repeated visits to areas of high need is indeed addressing geographic barriers, and we are also seeing an impact on the more intangible access issues — lack of trust in the legal system, lack of knowledge about availability of legal services, lack of belief that they will be heard or that their problem can be solved.

Along with the continued growth and development of outreach, Tacomaprobono’s Resource Navigator program is another innovative program providing holistic service for clients who need more assistance in order to remain housed.  Resource Navigators Lindsey Russell, Katee Myer and Molly Golanka are bringing a much-needed social work presence to help keep our clients on a path to stability as they negotiate their legal issues with the help of our staff and volunteer attorneys.

Originally conceived in 2022 as a part of the Housing Justice Project to assist clients experiencing housing instability or facing homelessness in taking the steps needed to remain housed, the program has proven to be so powerful in getting results for our clients that it is now serving existing clients from all parts of our program. 

The Resource Navigator program is currently expanding, along with the Legal Aid Pop-Up program which continues to add regular sessions in new locations, most recently Gig Harbor Civic Center, Sumner-Bonney Lake Family Support Center, Springbrook Connections, Puyallup Library, Making a Difference Foundation’s Wednesday food distribution at the Tacoma Dome, and more.  The Pop-ups are also attracting new volunteer attorneys, some of whom live in the more remote communities we seek to serve.  The full pop-up calendar is on our website, www.tacomaprobono.org.  All pop-ups are walk-in, first-come-first-served events, no screening, all civil legal issues welcome.

Contact information for Tacomaprobono Community Lawyers:

Melisa Evangelos, Executive Director:  mevangelos@tacomaprobono.org

Laurie Davenport, Communications Director:  laurie@tacomaprobono.org

Melissa Wolkenhauer, Manager, Volunteer Legal Program:  melissaw@tacomaprobono.org


December 2023

2023 Grants Wrap-Up

We are so grateful for our partners across Washington fighting for civil justice. Here are a few 2023 highlights we want to celebrate:Congratulations to the first cohort of Accelerator Grantees!These one-time grants are designed to accelerate time-sensitive civil justice work and launch impactful projects. Seven outstanding projects received funding in 2023 including the Carl Maxey Center’s Sandy Williams Justice Center, a new resource created for and by Spokane’s BIPOC communities. The Carl Maxey Center team did an amazing job launching the clinic and providing legal advice and resources to over 300 individuals in its first five months!This IssueTable of Contents:

Partners completed nearly $2M in COVID-related legal aid assistance, focused on communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Together, 14 programs hosted over 200 legal education workshops and trainings for almost 6,000 people, and provided direct services to more than 5,000 individuals. Thank you to our partners including Northwest Consumer Law CenterEastside Legal Assistance ProgramKing County Bar Association, and Living with Conviction and others who stepped up and expanded services during this critical time!

And most importantly, we want to celebrate the 50+ organizations we were honored to support this year! From Walla Walla to Port Angeles, these legal aid programs provided client-centered, community-based services, tackled systemic inequities, and impacted long-lasting systemic change.

Thank you for all of your amazing work!!


April 2023

The Tenant Law Center (TLC) has spent 31 years providing eviction prevention legal services to renters before they get a summons and complaint. There are 14 advocates leading this work   to ensure housing rights are enforced in King County.  TLC’s advocacy helps more than 89% of renters served stayed housed. Our success is rooted in collaboration with case managers and clients enrolled in Housing Essential Needs, Rapid Rehousing and Supportive Services for Veterans and Families. Our in-house case manager, Michelle, is able to provide necessary referrals and assistance such as housing connector case management support.  

Our paralegal Eddie shared, “I am proud to be able to assist vulnerable King County residents who are at risk of being evicted. As someone who has lived through poverty and homelessness, I put myself in their shoes and strive to give my best to provide the best service to them.” 

On January 13, 2023, Tenants Unions, Housing Justice Project and Tenant Law Center launched the King County Tenant Rights Resources Hotline that allows renters to call one number, 206-580-0762, to connect with one of our programs. As a result of this collaboration, TLC advocates have served 467 people. 149 or 32% identified their race as White, and 301 or 68% identified as BIPOC. Of those who identified as BIPOC 40% were Black, 11% Hispanic, 7% Multi-racial, 4% Asian, 2% each of American Indian, Pacific Islander, and Middle Eastern.  However, in King County, Black women account for 16% of evictions while making up only 5% of the renter population. In 2022, TLC served 1,133 people: 34% were White and 66% were BIPOC renters.  Of those who identified as BIPOC 31% were Black, 11% Hispanic, 7% Multi-racial, 5% Asian 4%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, 3% American Indian, and 2% Middle Eastern. From 2022 to 2023, TLC has had a 25 percent increase in Black renters needing legal help to resolve the housing dispute without an unlawful detainer action filed. 

TLC attorneys staff host multiple monthly community  Know Your Rights Trainings with Solid Ground, Wellspring Family Services, LGBTQ Allyship, Tenants Union, Somali Community Services of Seattle, Be Seattle and more in an effort to help ensure all renters understand their rights.  Staff attorney, Elizabeth shared, “I enjoy deprogramming tenants whose landlords tell tall tales [about renter’s rights]. My favorite lyrics are John Hyatt: “those aren’t the facts of life, that’s just bad fiction.” This is why we prioritize showing up with community and prioritize Know Your Rights Trainings and general Counsel and Advice.  

Most renters contacting TLC are given self-help tenant resources that often include: pro se self-help demand letters, request for repair or accommodation and/or referral to a local code enforcement, administrative agency or social service provider to help resolve the issue impacting tenancy. We represent people enrolled in Rapid Rehousing Programs to address past rental debt by negotiating with collections agencies and small landlords to get past debt satisfied and to limit the dissemination of an eviction record. Most of the time, TLC advocates successfully negotiate rental debt by challenging the validity of the debt and paying actual debt owed using pledges from nonprofits and government agencies. After debt is satisfied or settled, TLC advocates will file an Order limiting the dissemination of the eviction record. TLC paralegal, Beth shared, “the work that I am proud to do each day involves assisting clients in removal of their rental debt barriers. This is very gratifying work as we see people go from homelessness to signing new apartment leases. The drastic improvement in their living situation is remarkable!”  

Once a week, you will find TLC paralegals and attorneys helping renters get reasonable repayment plans through the King County Dispute Resolution Eviction Resolution Pilot Program Clinic. TLC works alongside East Side Legal Assistance Program and Northwest Justice Project to support the Solid Ground Know Your Rights trainings in Spanish and English. The attorneys provide virtual counsel and advice for renters attending the clinic. They also represent vulnerable renters in mediation and we will review a reasonable repayment plan before a tenant signs it.  

Our goal is to help all renters know their rights, enforce their rights, and improve their rights so they can stay housed in habitable homes. The TLC legal team uses all of the legal and advocacy tools in our tool box!  Sam, staff attorney shared, “I enjoy explaining to tenants their rights and methods of recourse in various settings, be it on the hotline, at clinics, or KYR trainings. Making myself available in numerous venues allows me to meet tenants where they are at and helps mitigate access to justice issues that many of our clients/callers face.”  

-Andra Kranzler, Directing Attorney  


March 2023

English

Valentina De La Mora works as a Trans Peer Navigator at Entre Hermanos. She helps transgender Latinx clients of the legal program to obtain name changes, accompanies them through gender-affirming surgeries, and connects clients to food benefits and other necessities. She describes a day in her job:

“My day goes something like this: We have a client in the legal program at Entre Hermanos who wants to legally change her name. I let her know how much the fee is, and we arrange to meet on a day she doesn’t have work. At 7:00 a.m. I drive to her home to pick her up and we arrive early at the courthouse; she has to pay in cash before 11:00 a.m. to see the judge on the same day. We wait for the appointment and at 1:00 p.m. the moment arrives: they call our client, and she goes before the judge. She explains why she wants to change her name, under the argument that she is transgender. The judge orders the so-desired change to a woman’s name, he signs and seals the order. Our client smiles, super happy, and of course so am I…” 

Valentina goes on to describe how this document will start the process of changing our client’s name on the necessary documents. Later, she takes the same client to the Department of Licensing to change her name on her ID. With the new ID, Valentina explains, our client will no longer have to face her coworkers at her job calling her by the masculine name she was given at birth. Later, she takes the client to DSHS to get food benefits; this will help her to not go hungry.

Valentina is just one member of a team that works incredibly hard to serve LGBTQ+ Latinx immigrants where they are at, in Spanish, with or without documents. She closes by noting “We end the day very pleased, her because little by little she is meeting her goals and me simply happy to be doing the thing I love the most in life.”

Learn more about Entre Hermanos here.

Spanish

Valentina De La Mora trabaja como Navegadora Trans en Entre Hermanos. Ayuda a clientes transgeneros y latinx del programa legal para obtener cambios de nombre, les acompañe a sus citas de cirugia para afirmar su genero, y les conecta con beneficios de comida y otras necesidades. Ella nos describe un dia de su trabajo:

“Jornada de un dia comun y corriente: Tenemos una cliente en proceso legal con Entre Hermanos, desea cambiar su nombre legal, lo cual le comento el cargo, y coordinamos un dia que no trabaja nuestra clienta. A las 07:00am voy manejando a donde reside nuestra clienta; tenemos que pagar los cargos en efectivo antes de las 11:00 am para asi poder ver el juez el mismo dia. Esperamos hasta la 01:00 de la tarde para la audiencia, llegado el momento nombran a la clienta y pasa frente al juez. Explica el porque desea el cambio de nombre, bajo el argumento de ser transgenero. Le otorga el tan deseado cambio de nombre de mujer. Se firma y sella la orden. Sonrie nuestra amiga, esta super feliz, claro yo tambien…”

Valentina sigue describiendo como este documento iniciara el cambio de nombre en todos los documentos necesarios. Luego, lleva la misma clienta al departamento de licencias a cambiar su nombre en el ID. Con el ID nuevo, Valentina explica, nuestra clienta ya no tendra que enfrentar que sus companeros de trabajo le digan por nombre masculino. Ya luego, lleva la clienta al DSHS para inscribirla para beneficios alimenticios, que asi no pasara hambre. 

Valentina es solo una miembra de un equipo que trabaja muy duro para servir a inmigrantes Latinx LGBTQ+ en donde estan, en espanol, con o sin documentos. Cierra su historia notando lo siguiente: “Terminamos el dia super felices, ella porque poco a poco va cumpliendo sus metas y yo simplemente porque hago lo que mas amo en este mundo.”


December 2022

In late October, TeamChild partnered with Kent-based youth mentoring organization, Glover Empower Mentoring (GEM), and The Washington Bus, a statewide youth-led civic engagement organization, to host and facilitate a youth-driven community panel on the election of the King County Prosecuting Attorney and the impacts of the office on King County youth. Young people in south King County organized to ensure their voices were not only represented in the democratic process, but centered in the conversation about the direct impact of prosecution on them and their communities. As our youth panelist, Seiha, put it: “I feel like the importance of this event, and why it’s important for the youth to know who is running for the position of King County Prosecuting Attorney, is God forbid they do get in that position where they are being prosecuted — just having the knowledge about who is influencing where they go or what happens with them — it makes a difference.”

Special thanks to Youth Event Coordinators, Seiha Bunkasem, Cameron Srisupa, and Khaleeah Glover; and Panelists James Curtis, Andrea Altheimer, and Seiha for sharing their perspectives.

Click here to learn more about TeamChild.


November 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already dire housing situation in King County, particularly for people with low incomes and for people of color, forcing many financially insecure people out of their homes.

Many among this population also have legal, social, and economic barriers to acquiring and maintaining stable housing due to a criminal record. This population also is disproportionately people of color. For example, incarceration rates for Black men in Washington are five times the rate of white men.

One of those legal and economic barriers of a criminal conviction is court-imposed “legal financial obligations” (LFOs), which have been accruing 12% interest for years. (A 2018 reform removed courts’ authority to impose 12% interest on non-restitution LFOs going forward.) In King County, if those LFOs include victim restitution, unpaid debt may result in the debtors’ arrest. In this respect, LFO policy criminalizes poverty. LFO policy also is also one of racialized wealth extraction. It disproportionately impacts communities of color. A former Living with Conviction team member characterized LFOs as keeping people with LFOs “shackled” to the criminal legal system for life.

Living with Conviction, a collaboration between formerly incarcerated individuals and their legal allies, advocate together for an end to burdensome LFOs. With a King County COVID-19 Response Grant through LFW, LwC has expanded its peer-to-peer Legal Empowerment Program. With King County support, LwC created a mobile team of formerly incarcerated individuals who visit transitional housing, work release facilities, probation offices, and homeless encampments throughout King County. The team helps their peers with LFOs prepare and submit to the King County Superior Court formal requests to reduce their LFOs, to the extent the law allows. The team uses LwC’s Justice in Motion Web App, an online guided interview that asks a series of questions and then, with the answers, fills out the mandatory court forms. For the people the team helps, they also deliver the court forms: filing them in the clerk’s office, serving them on the prosecutor’s office, and delivering bench copies to the judges’ mailroom.

Upon a properly prepared and filed motion, it is mandatory on the part of the court to waive the accrued non-restitution interest.

LwC’s formerly incarcerated IT Director Kyrrah Nork, explains, “Justice in Motion enables people to exercise their rights under Washington law that the state neglected to inform them of. It helps formerly incarcerated individuals relieve some of their debt burden, which in turn enables them to better meet their day-to-day financial needs and be productive members of society.”

To date (and excluding many pending motions), King County Superior Court has waived approximately $60,000 in non-restitution LFO interest for the people that LwC has helped with this grant. That number rises to approximately $300,000 in waived non-restitution interest when we include waivers for individuals living outside King County with King County LFOs.

For more information, see LivingwithConviction.org.


October 2022

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, public school students with disabilities and their families in King County and across Washington State have increased need for individual representation and education advocacy. COVID-based  learning loss most significantly impacted students with disabilities who also experience additional marginalized identities. Disability Rights Washington (DRW) received increased reports of amplified inequities with loss in academic, social and emotional learning, behavior and mental health supports, as well as a loss of important day-to-day structure and relational safety. Without these supports, some students have been admitted to hospitals and other students have experienced more restrictive placement and punishment at school.

With a King County COVID-19 Response Grant through LFW, DRW has expanded our legal service capacity to meet these pressing needs. DRW is providing advice and technical assistance on education to students with disabilities, with additional educational advocacy through negotiation, mediation or due process, while monitoring and reporting on the use of isolation and restraints in King County. DRW is centering race and focusing on those most impacted by COVID-19, including students who are BIPOC, non-native English speakers, low-income, with lived experience in housing instability and/or the foster care system. Addressing these acute needs and working with the most impacted students and families will not only provide an opportunity to address immediate problems, but also will address long-term systemic violence and injustice disproportionately impacting BIPOC disabled students in schools every day.

Click here to learn more about Disability Rights Washington.