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Foundation hosts disaster training seminar

first_imgThe calls were, in some cases, routed to some of the more than 800 volunteer attorneys recruited by the YLD. Those attorneys handled an equal percentage of landlord/tenant issues and insurance-related issues.Other calls — such as requests for agencies’ phone numbers — were handled directly by Bar staff. Moses said many calls were so heartwrenching that volunteers needed crisis counseling after manning the hotline.Doyle said the Foundation is in the process of establishing a grant program for legal aid disaster-related client needs and a $10,000 donation earlier this year by the YLD would support the Foundation’s efforts in that area.Last year’s hurricanes may have inspired the Foundation to develop a comprehensive disaster plan, but the idea started back in 1992, following Hurricane Andrew. Attorney Terry Coble stood in front of a picture of the devastation in Homestead caused by the fierce, category 5 mauler, and spoke of the immediate needs after such a disaster. Coble, along with Chuck Elsesser, of Florida Legal Services, was heavily involved in the response efforts following Andrew.“When you’re dealing with chaos and the infrastructure is destroyed, you need to realize how hard it will be to accomplish even the most simple tasks,” Coble said.To help legal aid grantees better navigate their own post-disaster landscape, the Foundation hired Coble and others to write different sections of the disaster manual.Often, Coble said, a legal aid attorney’s primary goal will be to help a client navigate the FEMA maze.Although FEMA has a mandate to get information out, Coble said “lower-income communities might not be reached by the government’s efforts.” Because of delays in getting the information out, Coble said, a crucial component of an attorney’s post-disaster legal strategy is to advocate for extensions to file for benefits. All but one of FEMA’s deadlines can be extended, he said. For those who apply for disaster unemployment assistance, that benefit can only last 26 weeks.After individual representation, which Coble said generally involves legal action against insurance companies, contractors, or landlords; the next phase can be more difficult to plan. Elsesser said once the community reaches the “we will rebuild” stage, many of the area’s poorest residents could be left in the lurch.Elsesser said low-income housing generally suffers the biggest losses and a large percentage of legal aid clients live in low-cost housing, and there may not be anywhere for them to go.Sometimes, property owners do not rebuild low-income housing. Sometimes, city officials can be glad to be rid of low-income housing developments and mobile home parks. Often, Elsesser said, that property is zipped through the rezoning channels, paving the way for high-priced condominiums.Legal aid needs to take a proactive approach and identify low-income housing before a disaster, he said. This can be done through the county’s rent rolls and the housing authority’s list of low-income housing.“It is impossible for the community to go back to the way it was,” Elsesser said. “Generally, redevelopment will always affect poor people, and catastrophic damage can impact the community forever.”Elsesser said it was important to negotiate the “Right of Return” for all pre-storm tenants. “If it was tied to benefits and went down, it needs to go back up,” Elsesser said.Immediately post-disaster, Elsesser also recommended advocating for the increased availability of interim FEMA trailer assistance. “Housing vouchers are useless unless there is housing,” Elsesser said, “For three or four years after Andrew, people were still living in FEMA trailers.”Sometimes, Elsesser said, “HUD may release certain developers from the need to repair, but disaster cannot be used as an excuse to exit subsidized housing.”Alice Nelson, a consultant to the Foundation and former executive director of Southern Legal Counsel, stressed that the disaster manual “is only the beginning.” Nelson urged the legal aid representatives to compile their own individual emergency plans. The plan should include a “disaster contingent cooperative,” which would include a partnering law firm or legal aid organization on the opposite side of the state. This law firm would agree to receive your office’s forwarded calls, in the event of a disaster, and vice versa.“You never know,” Nelson said, “Whether you will be the provider or the beneficiary of such an agreement.” Foundation hosts disaster training seminar September 15, 2005 Regular Newscenter_img Foundation hosts disaster training seminar Legal aid lawyers learn how to assist the most vulnerable among us Ripple effects from damage from last year’s unprecedented four hurricanes continue to pound the Floridians who can least afford it.And now in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina, weather experts say more storms are expected this year.To help the state’s legal aid clients weather hurricanes, The Florida Bar Foundation recently hosted the first ever disaster-training seminar for Florida’s legal aid programs. The Foundation developed the training curriculum and a companion manual in response to last year’s storms and the flood of problems they caused for Florida’s poorest residents. Nearly 50 representatives from legal aid organizations and members of the Young Lawyers Division listened as guest speakers touched on topics ranging from short- and long-term client issues following a hurricane, to how legal aid societies can prepare themselves and their offices for such an event.“We felt the need for a more comprehensive approach to responding to disasters of this magnitude,” said the Foundation’s Paul Doyle.YLD President Jamie Moses said a hotline set up last year by the YLD and manned by Bar staffers logged more than 11,000 calls last hurricane season.“Our role,” Moses said, “is to prevent those 11,000 calls from going to your office.”last_img read more