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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Free Legal Aid Coming To West And South Sides Thanks To Communities Partnering For Peace

"Ultimately this should be the definition of what people consider community lawyering," said Miguel Keberlein, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society.

CP4P violence prevention outreach workers.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Eight neighborhood organizations working on violence prevention across the city will be able to offer free legal services to their communities thanks to a new initiative.

The Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services is dedicating a team to give legal help for everything from landlord disputes to booted cars to record expungements.

The eight nonprofits that will benefit from the new initiative work together through Communities Partnering for Peace, an initiative guided by Metro Family to implement violence intervention strategies on the South and West sides.

Also known as CP4P, Communities Partnering for Peace promotes peace using trauma-informed care practices, hyper-local outreach, restorative justice and a holistic approach to tackling the social, emotional, legal and behavioral causes of violence.

The neighborhood partners working with CP4P are UCAN in North Lawndale, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago for Austin and West Garfield Park, Breakthrough in East Garfield Park, Target Area DevCorp in Englewood, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in West Englewood, the Alliance of Local Service Organizations in Humboldt Park, New Life Centers in Little Village and Precious Blood in Back of the Yards.

Through the collaboration, each individual organization is able to strengthen its own programs with the combined expertise of all the other neighborhood partners across the city involved in CP4P.

Street outreach workers for each organization also get training from the 18-week Metropolitan Peace Academy convened by Metro Family for developing skills and best practices for violence interruption, self-care and restorative justice.

And with the added legal resources that the Legal Aid Society plans to bring to CP4P in early 2020, the collaboration will be able to deliver a new set of services on the ground directly to the neighborhoods where people face steep barriers to accessing legal advice.

“Ultimately this should be the definition of what people consider community lawyering, which is legal services that are in the community, that are responsive to the community’s self-identified needs,” said Miguel Keberlein, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society.

Each CP4P partner organization previously helped to administer a community needs assessment for determining what type of legal support the residents in each unique area could best benefit from.

The legal team expected to join CP4P will be able to assist residents with comprehensive legal advice on any type of issue ranging from a booted car to housing disputes with landlords. From the assessments that CP4P did on the West Side, Program Director Vaughn Bryant said some of the greatest needs are related to housing issues, wage theft and expungements of past convictions including cannabis offenses.

“It’s an important layer to the work that we think will be a part of the comprehensive package that will lead to the violence reduction that we want to see,” Bryant said.

In order to serve the shifting legal needs in each community area, the legal team working with CP4P will be offering general services that are not hyper-specialized in a particular field of the law like housing or health care. That way, the lawyers will be more readily able adapt to any type of issue that community members have.

Keberlein said the new services will be especially helpful for folks who haven’t previously had access to legal advice because it is often difficult for people to recognize that the problem that they are having can be resolved through legal avenues. And even when people do get legal help, they sometimes don’t realize there are sometimes multiple interconnected legal issues that can be tackled comprehensively.

“We want to help empower people so that they understand, these are different avenues for you to find more stability and hopefully more peace,” Keberlein said.

In North Lawndale, CP4P partner organization UCAN expects that the availability of legal help will raise awareness that people do have options when it comes to choosing an attorney and using the law to resolve some of their problems.

UCAN currently works with the Lawndale Christian Legal Center to support young people in need of legal services. But there aren’t enough pro-bono attorneys available to serve all of the UCAN participants and other individuals in the neighborhood that need assistance.

With the help of the forthcoming Legal Aid Society attorneys, UCAN will have another option for filling the deficit. And since the lawyers at Lawndale Christian Legal Center focus on youth involved with the criminal justice system, the comprehensive services covered by the CP4P team will be able to extend to people of all ages with other legal issues beyond the purview of UCAN’s current partner.

“I think more than anything they need to know about those legal options. … So I think just across the board, figuring out a way to link young people to those spaces where this is an option for you,” said Adrienne Johnson, UCAN’s new Vice President of Violence Intervention and Prevention Services.

In her new role leading UCAN’s violence programs, Johnson will be spearheading the organization’s partnership with CP4P and will work to involve residents in expanding the trauma-informed services that UCAN offers to meet the growing need. In the past three years, UCAN reported a 419 percent increase in young people seeking services related to violence coinciding with a 30 percent drop in shootings in the neighborhood.

As community members come to UCAN for support on violence prevention and intervention, Johnson hopes to be able to be a bridge between violence programs and the wraparound social services that UCAN and its partners have to offer from workforce development to mentorship to clinical care services.

And with the CP4P partnership bringing added legal aid to the table, Johnson said they have another amazing tool at their disposal to realize her vision of a safe, vibrant and thriving neighborhood.

“We have an opportunity to really be a bridge for services that you can offer to different people in the community,” Johnson said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.