50th Anniversary and April 2016 eNewsletter

We have some things to celebrate in this month’s eNewsletter (though not the weather!).  LAF turns 50 this year – and we salute all the people who’ve worked here in that time frame, and all the clients we’ve served, and all the supporters who’ve kept us afloat.
One of those clients achieved a great victory this month, which will benefit her and her family.  But it will also change the way a local housing authority deals with women who are the targets of domestic violence.
And we are encouraged that MacArthur Genius Award Winner Matthew Desmond has opened people’s eyes to one of the biggest problems poor people face:  eviction and what it does to communities.  Eviction happens because people living in poverty face the impossible task of juggling to pay their rent, put food on the table, keep the lights on, or have heat.  So it starts with poverty, and the no-win choices poverty imposes.  But once a family is evicted, it is driven even deeper into poverty by having to move into worse housing, living with more stress and illness, and often enduring job loss.  Children bounce from school to school until they drop out.  And homelessness is often the end result.   At LAF, we try to stop this cycle every day.  But Professor Desmond’s book, Evicted, has people talking about housing policy in a whole new way.
If only the State of Illinois had a budget, we would be full of hope and enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t – we are now at the end of month 10 of the current budget impasse, and there is no end in sight.  For LAF, no state budget means that, from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, we will not be paid for almost $1 million in work the State has given us contracts to provide.  Our reserves fell by more than $800,000 in 2015.  The LAF Board will spend another $300,000 of our reserves in 2016 to help with an anticipated $620,000 deficit this year.  We are currently working hard to identify savings to fill the rest of the hole.
As much as LAF has been hurt by the budget situation, many of our partners in the social service sector have been hurt much worse.  According to a recent United Way survey, 88% of respondents in Chicagoland have cut the number of clients they serve or eliminated whole programs.  Almost half of them have tapped into their cash reserves.  Nearly a third have laid off staff, and 5% have had to skip payrolls.   And, of course, the clients we all serve have been hit the hardest of all.
The next 50 years at LAF are starting off with big challenges!  Read about them and much more in our latest eNewsletter!

Miguel’s Wellstone Award

Miguel - Wellstone AwardWe are proud to congratulate the Director of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, Miguel Keberlein, who recieved the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award in a ceremony last night.  It was awarded by the Freedom Network, a national alliance of advocates working with survivors of human trafficking.   The award is named in honor of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both champions of human rights and justice. The Wellstone Award recognizes individuals and agencies that have made a unique or outstanding contribution to combating human trafficking and slavery in the United States.  Miguel received the award for his advocacy on behalf of migrant seasonal farm workers, who are often victims of human trafficking.  An excerpt of his moving acceptance speech follows:
Miguel - Wellstone Award 2“We all come to this work for different reasons and from different backgrounds.  For myself, I spent much of my youth growing up in my mother’s home country of Guatemala in a very remote village during the height of the civil war.  War is not kind and the atrocities one witnesses can easily shake one’s belief in mankind.  But there are always lessons to be learned and much good can come from the darkest of moments, something I am always reminded of when I work with our clients.  My father has always considered Don Quixote as his hero and I’ve received the book as a gift from him on several occasions throughout my life.  I look back now and I know why.  In the face of reality in a world that too often tells us we can’t, sometimes we are required to forge ahead by seeing the world for all that it can be.  I believe in a world the way Paul and Sheila Wellstone saw it, the way my father sees it, and indeed the way Don Quixote sees it.  Together we can create a world where respecting human dignity is the cornerstone of our society, and where human trafficking is something of the past.”

Congratulations, Miguel!

Supreme Court Victory and March 2016 eNewsletter

In this month’s eNewsletter, we shared a story of victory at the Illinois Supreme Court.  Last fall, LAF attorneys Miriam Hallbauer and Tim Huizenga appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court on behalf of a client who was denied unemployment insurance benefits even though her former employer had no evidence she’d violated any workplace policies.  This was the first misconduct case the Court had heard in years, and lower courts had substantially watered down the misconduct requirement (which disqualified a worker from getting benefits), from a deliberate violation of a known rule to anything the employer could call misconduct.  Because of Miriam and Tim’s work, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down an opinion that squarely rejects the lower courts’ interpretations, noting that “an employee should not be disqualified unless she engages in conduct she knew was prohibited.”  This decision will have an enormously beneficial impact for our clients and others seeking unemployment insurance benefits.

Mary Ann’s Story

An LAF client has been in the Chicago news lately, and while her story is unique, it is not surprising.  We see people like Mary Ann every day: innocent victims discriminated against by overburdened systems.

When Mary Ann refused to let her daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend enter her apartment, he poured gasoline in the windows and set her public housing unit on fire.  After months of hospitalization and painful recovery, she faced homelessness because the housing authority blamed her for the fire damage and refused to rent her a new apartment.  With LAF’s help, Mary Ann is settled into a new public housing unit, where she and her daughter are safe from abuse.

You can read more of Mary Ann’s story in the Chicago Tribune here, and on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s blog here.  Because of the incredible efforts of LAF attorney Neha Lall and many others, Mary Ann is safe from homelessness and able to move forward with her life.

Lead Epidemic and Medical-Legal Partnerships

BenferTweetA recent Op-Ed in the New York Times shines a spotlight on the epidemic of lead poisoning in American cities.  Stories like those out of Flint, Michigan show the dangers of lead in water, but there is another culprit that is just as dangerous, one that disproportionately affects low-income and minority families: public housing.

The article is written by Emily Benfer, LAF’s partner in the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership between LAF, Loyola University Chicago, and the Erie Family Health Center, where we work together to provide legal solutions to health problems, such as unhealthy housing conditions.  Emily  points out the dangerous discrepancy between the acceptable lead levels in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s standards and those laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  HUD’s standards don’t require landlords to do anything about lead paint or pipes until they are at nearly four times the maximum level recommended by the CDC.  And even then, many landlords do nothing, like in the case of Mahogany and her family:

“Take the case of 4-year-old Mahoghany Walker. When her blood lead levels started to rise, her family applied for a transfer. But the housing authority rejected the application, saying she had yet to reach the HUD threshold.

Like most people at risk of lead poisoning, the Walker family did not have the resources to hire a lawyer. But Mahoghany’s mother, Lanice Walker, contacted our team, and together we compelled the housing authority to grant her request for a safe place to live.”

You can read the whole article in the New York Times here, and you can learn a lot more about the impact of medical-legal partnerships on this blog.

January 2016 eNewsletter; and Remembering Sheldon Roodman

in-memoriam-sheldon-roodman-sidebarWe are sad to share the news of Sheldon Roodman’s death.  Sheldon, who served as LAF’s Executive Director for more than 30 years, passed away on January 25, 2016, after a long battle with cancer.  He was a great, humble, wise man, who led LAF very well for many years.  More information, including obituary, funeral arrangements, services, and shiva will be available soon.  To make a contribution to LAF in memory of Sheldon Roodman, click here.

You can read more about Sheldon’s impact on LAF, as well as much more, in our January eNewsletter, out today.