How Legal Aid of Sonoma County Makes a Difference
Disaster Services Relief Program
In response to the 2017 wildfires, we created our Disaster Services Relief Program. It provides outreach/education, fire rights clinics, and individual representation. We handle insurance, Federal benefits (e.g. FEMA), housing and employment issues, as well as consumer issues.
KJ was made homeless by the fires. His rental burned down, and he lacked resources to afford a new deposit and rental. When he came to LASC, KJ had been living in his car for 9 months.
He needed benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as he lacked other means to address his losses.
LASC helped him obtain the FEMA housing and personal property replacement funds.
FEMA paid for the security deposit for his rental, and he secured future rental payments until April 2019.
As a result, KJ was able to move out of his car and into housing.
Elder Law Program (ELDER)
LASC’s Elder Law Program serves adults age 60 or older. The program assists over 500 older adults each year. We provide mobile legal services in Petaluma, Sebastopol, Guerneville, Cloverdale, and Sonoma. In-home visits are available on a select basis.
John and Donna’s Story
This elderly couple are in their 60s. When our elder outreach team met them, they were living in fear. Their adult son, “Jack”, was abusive and hostile and selling drugs out of their house. They called the police multiple times but were told there was nothing the police could do.
They tried evicting Jack without legal help, but this failed, and he only became more threatening. Eventually, John and Donna were so desperate and scared, that they left their own home and began living at Dale’s shop.
LASC’s elder outreach team stepped in and obtained a 5-year protective order. The order forced Jack to move out of the home and to stop threatening their safety. Because of LASC’s help, John and Donna were able to move back into their home and to resume their lives, knowing they were safe.
Housing Stability Program: HOME
Assists over 600 households per year. HOME improves the quality of rental housing and helps stabilize low-income tenant families in a precarious housing climate.
HOME provides tenants, and some low-income landlords, help with the following issues:
- Eviction Issues
- Section 8 problems
- Unsafe or Unhealthy Housing Condition
Bill is a Section 8 housing voucher holder. He is disabled and has lived in his apartment for over 19 years. Bill was served with an eviction notice after his neighbor made false claims against him. LASC investigated the neighbor’s claim and disproved it.
LASC represented Bill and obtained a court order that allowed him to remain in his home of 19 years. The eviction could have cost Bill not only his long-time home, but also his housing subsidy. Bill would have most likely become homeless without LASC’s help.
Domestic Violence Services: SAFE
This program serves 600 adults and over 1,000 children annually to protect them from domestic violence. SAFE keeps abusers away from victims, including at risk children, by assisting them with restraining orders (ROs).
ROs assist victims by making their housing safe, giving them access to child support, transportation resources and medical insurance in some cases. SAFE services are available at our main office or at the Family Justice Center where we have multiple staff.
Victoria was only 12 years old and was enduring constant abuse by her mother. Her mother shoved her, jumped on top of her, and choked her.
Victoria’s mother also made several threats including saying, “I am going to knock your teeth out and make you pick them up one by one” and, “I don’t care if you call the cops. After this, you’d better call them quick before I kill you.” LASC intervened.
Victoria was terrified. It was very difficult for her to come forward and report her own mother to the police. Eventually, Victoria put an end to the abuse with a restraining order which also prevented her mother from having any further unsupervised contact with her. She now lives with her stepmother.
Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP)
This program serves over 100 families and 150 at risk children each year. CAPP protects abused and neglected children by helping them stabilize with non-parental caregivers.
CAPP helps caregivers obtain guardianships which give them the legal right to house an at-risk child, limit contact with an abusive parent, make legal decisions for the child, and obtain certain benefits on their behalf.
Sebastian, age 15, lived with his stepfather and mother. His stepdad is mentally ill and began abusing Sebastian. This escalated when Sebastian revealed that he is gay.
After a particularly bad assault, Sebastian told a school counselor about the abuse.
He said that he could not go home anymore because he was not safe there. Sebastian’s elder sister wanted to care for Sebastian. LASC obtained a guardianship for her.
Thanks to LASC, Sebastian now has a safe home with his older stepsister, Estella.
Estella is supportive and loving. Because of LASC’s intervention, Sebastian does not have to go into foster care nor continue to be abused.
Employment and Health Program (EHP)
EHP assists clients with legal issues which may be a barrier to their employment or health. Only clients who are receiving SonomaWorks benefits or services from the Department of Health, may be referred from SonomaWorks or DHS staff.
Sam was barred from career opportunities that would allow him to fully support his family because of his criminal record. He worked low-paying odd jobs without benefits and felt prohibited from fully integrating into society. He was ready to give up hope.
The last job interview Sam had before coming to LASC, Sam’s prospective employer said was willing to hire Sam—but there was a catch.
Only if all his convictions were dismissed. EHP worked with Sam for several weeks, helping him file a persuasive application for expungement. Sam won! The Court dismissed ALL of his convictions!
Because of our help, Sam got the job! He now has full-time work and a retirement fund.
Furthermore, he was able to pursue a professional license that increased his earning potential. Sam can finally provide for himself and his family.
Other Areas Where Legal Aid’s Impact is Notable
Hot Line/Client Intake: In 2013, we implemented several hotlines; one for seniors, one for tenants, and one for the general public. Our hotline specialist is responding to over 7,200 calls a year.
Rural Outreach: In 2012 and 2013, we launched mobile elder law and housing outreach program. These programs increased the number of rural seniors assisted by over 150%, and the number of low-income tenants by 80%. In addition, we send a bilingual caseworker to Sonoma Valley weekly to meet with domestic violence and family law clients.
Working Together: Our services are strengthened by our ongoing work to partner and collaborate. We know any agenda, whether that of a fellow non-profit housing provider or a County department, can be advanced by working with LASC and our demonstrated cooperation is present across Sonoma County.
We are a foundational partner with the Sonoma County Family Justice Center. We work with La Luz to bring on-site services to rural Spanish speaking Sonoma Valley residents. We work with senior centers who provide us with space and assist in setting appointments. Our housing outreach team works closely with the North Bay Organizing Project to identify and refer at risk tenants.
We also have strong partnerships with the County. We see elder clients at their south county health and human services office. We have direct referral programs with Child Protective Services (CPS), DHS, and SonomaWorks. We are part of an Elder Justice Coalition that seeks to better integrate services for older adults and victims of elder abuse.