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Blue Ridge Legal Services

Mission: Blue Ridge Legal Services (BRLS) is a legal aid society providing free legal assistance in civil matters of critical importance to low-income residents. BRLS is committed to eliminating poverty-based inequities in the civil justice system.

Community Need: BRLS aims to make free legal assistance more accessible to the over 2,300 low-income senior citizens of in the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, an in Augusta County, in matters of critical importance to their autonomy, their quality of life, and their safety and security. According to a 2017 report measuring the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, 56% of low-income seniors had at least one civil legal problem in the past year. Low-income seniors received inadequate or no professional legal help for 87% of their civil legal problems.

Senior citizens face the threat of being marginalized under the law in their older years if they can no longer afford legal counsel when needed. Thus, equal access to justice is one of the most fundamental and compelling needs of the older poor, particularly in matters that impact their shelter, medical care, autonomy, and basic subsistence. Their low-income senior clients are often frail or disabled, requiring special attention in the counseling and handling of their legal problems. Their legal issues, of critical importance to their health, well-being and quality of life, are myriad. They are frequently preyed upon, exploited or abused by unscrupulous businesses or individuals. They face the increased likelihood of large medical bills, and many fear destitution or the loss of their homes due to debts. They often deal with the need for home health and long-term care, issues involving institutionalization and quality of care in nursing homes, with all the concomitant bureaucracies, regulations, and appeals.

Constituents Served: Residents in the Shenandoah and Roanoke Valley, to include 25 cities and counties, whose household income is less than 125% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible for their services. For households with incomes of less than 200% of the FPL, BRLS deducts certain expenses to see if their adjusted net income falls below 125% FPL. Last year BRLS assisted 2,054 clients, of whom 353 lived in the SAWH area. Program-wide, the ages ranged from under age 18 (22); 18-59 (1,538); and 60+ (494).  In the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, and Augusta and Highland counties, those served under the age of 18 (7); 18-59 (259) and 60+ (87).  In terms of race, for the Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County 79% were white; 15% were black; 1% were Hispanic; and 4% were other.  Gender: 77% were female, 23% were male. 36% were disabled and all of them were poor.

Primary Activities: BRLS provide free legal assistance to low-income residents of the Shenandoah and Roanoke Valley in civil (not criminal) cases of critical importance to their lives where they are otherwise unable to obtain legal representation. They do so through a combination of paid staff (attorneys and paralegal14 on staff) and volunteer attorneys (around 170) who accept referred clients from BRLS on a pro bono basis. Their free legal assistance ranges from advice and limited service (such as drafting wills) to representation in negotiations and litigation in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies.  They currently have 14 attorneys on staff.

Amount Requested: $10,000

Operating Budget: $2,357,916

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