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Civil Legal Aid is Crucial for Many in Our District (Op-ed) (WA)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Civil Legal Aid is Crucial for Many in Our District

"One of my most important duties, as an elected state representative, is to ensure that essential state services are fairly and equitably available – especially for those who need them the most. Unfortunately, an independent study shows our state’s civil legal system leaves many of our neighbors defenseless during times of crisis — including veterans to whom our society owes its largest debt.

Low-income people in Washington face difficult civil legal problems more often than others; problems such as eviction, medical debt, and domestic violence. Unlike in criminal cases, our fellow citizens are not entitled to an attorney at public expense, so state-funded civil legal aid services are often their only lifeline. Every day civil legal aid helps people protect their safety, financial security, and even the roofs over their heads.

However, far too many of the working poor in Washington and Kitsap County lack access to civil legal aid. A 2015 Washington State University study found that three-quarters of people living in poverty face at least one civil legal crisis each year, but only one in four get any legal help.

The need for civil legal aid is particularly acute for low-income veterans.  Distressingly, veteran homelessness is on the rise across the country. In a recent study, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs identified that one of the highest unmet needs for homeless veterans is legal help to prevent eviction and foreclosure.

We know this to be true here in Kitsap County, where housing is harder and harder to afford and where last year’s “Point in Time” homelessness count found at least 100 veterans living on the street.

Thanks to attorneys at the non-profit Northwest Justice Project (NJP) and volunteer attorneys working with Kitsap Legal Services, we know of success stories that have helped veterans and low-income citizens find housing. These lawyers assisted more than 500 people in our county last year, with 56 local attorneys donating nearly 900 volunteer hours to the effort.

These legal services are also a lifeline for our low-income neighbors, including our seniors, who have no other place to turn when circumstances arise that threaten their health and safety..."

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