“Please help me.” A simple request from a man, living alone after the death of his parents who cared for him for years. Our Athens staff went out to find him, down country roads, knocking on doors. They found a man with significant health problems struggling to survive, without income or medical care. A neighbor had helped him apply for Medicaid, but his application sat in administrative limbo. Working with a volunteer doctor and private attorney, our advocates went to federal court and got him quickly approved for financial and medical assistance. Before closing his case, the office’s paralegal went again to check on him and found he did not know how to use his electronic benefits card. She took him and showed him how.
If you live in southeast Ohio, you’ve heard these stories from family, friends, neighbors, and clients: no food, income, medical care, or decent housing; women, the elderly, and children living with abuse; a family’s check spent on a used car to get to work and the car breaking down on the first trip and a job lost; or people caught up in, confused and scared by the court system.
Due to the economy, the number of people needing help has increased dramatically while federal, state and local funding cuts for social services, including legal services, has resulted in fewer people and other resources available to help those in need.
This, our first issue of “SEOLS briefly,” highlights our Athens office, which opened in 1979. Today, the office has three attorneys, a paralegal, and two secretaries to serve thousands of poor and senior citizens of Athens, Gallia, Meigs and Vinton Counties and their federal, state, and local legal problems. Four years ago, the office had eight attorneys.
It is our hope that “SEOLS briefly” will help to better inform the community about our work; find potential partners working to respond to such increasingly desperate stories; and give people who need our services another way to connect. We also hope that as more people learn about the work we do, more will volunteer their time, share their resources and engage with us in making a difference.
Our attorneys and paralegals are creative, resourceful and committed to helping people resolve legal issues that impact their health, their economic stability, and threaten their homes. We can find and use contacts, know which doors to open to get help and, when needed, go to court to make sure those doors are opened.
No legal aid program can help everyone who needs help. SEOLS works to hit a balance between two approaches: helping individuals with serious legal problems, such as abuse, lack of medical care, loss of income, and risk of homelessness, while also looking for ways—through litigation or community partnerships and policy advocacy—to address a systemic or recurring legal problem affecting the many.
If you are a social service agency with clients who need an attorney or legal information, give us a call. If you see systemic problems that are needlessly hurting low-income folks, give us a call. If you are involved in the community and want to partner to enhance services, give us a call. If you or someone you know needs our help, give us a call.