eNewsletter - April 2016

   LAF eNews Update
April 2016   
In This Newsletter
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Meet Neha Lall
Neha Lall started volunteering at a domestic violence shelter during her senior year of college.  “It changed my life."  Since then, she has been working to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence, in a career that spans almost 20 years in different cities and organizations. 
Neha came to LAF in 2009, and  now works as a Senior Attorney in LAF’s Housing Practice Group.  She chose to focus on housing work and helps provide legal services to clients through a Department of Justice grant that funds LAF’s work with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.  She works to ensure that victims’ families are safe and housed.  “It’s a problem that people think domestic violence is just a family law issue.  Securing custody and an order of protection is only part of the solution.  If we don’t look at the whole set of challenges these women are facing, including housing, it doesn’t make a lasting change.” 
Even with her focus on violence against women, Neha knew she wanted to work in a place where she could strengthen her skills as a lawyer, and not be pigeonholed doing the same thing over and over.  She appreciates the versatility of her job and the breadth of poverty law issues she has encountered as a lawyer.  “LAF is the place to learn about poverty law and practice it,” she said, "because we do everything.” 
She does what she does because she sees the inequality our clients face every day.  "Middle-class people have a social safety net.  In a crisis, there are people around us who could support us and take us in.  For poor people, even a small crisis can lead to life on the street.  There is a social capital that people living comfortably above the poverty line take for granted that people living in poverty do not have, living so close to the margins."  One of those people is Mary Ann, whose story you can read more about in this eNewsletter.
About a year ago, Mary Ann came in to LAF.  She was just getting back on her feet after a months-long medically-induced coma, followed by a painful rehabilitation process.  She was still recovering from burns covering over 25% of her body, and just regaining her mobility and her ability to speak.  She told her incredible story, about how she had literally stood face to face with a crazy man — her daughter's ex-boyfriend — and told him to leave her family alone.  The man reacted and did the unimaginable.  He firebombed Mary Ann’s home.  Over the next year, Mary Ann, with Neha at her side, fought back against the Housing Authority of Cook County, who blamed Mary Ann for causing this awful attack.  
With the case concluded, Neha voiced her joy at the progress Mary Ann has made in the last year.  "While Mary Ann was recovering from her awful injuries, HACC refused to find her another place to live, maintaining that it was Mary Ann’s fault that her home had been firebombed.  As soon as we were able to get her re-housed, it was immediately clear how much better she felt having a home to call her own again.  But HACC told Mary Ann all her belongings had been lost in the fire, which wasn’t true.  Months later, HACC delivered some of Mary Ann’s belongings – without explanation – including an urn containing the cremated remains of a dear relative she had held in her home.  HACC’s treatment of Mary Ann compounded the injury: she was a hero who protected her family, paid a terrible price for her bravery, and then was blamed for the damage her assailant caused.  In the federal lawsuit LAF and the Shriver Center filed on Mary Ann’s behalf, HACC finally came to its senses.  Mary Ann received a large financial settlement (the amount itself is confidential), LAF and the Shriver Center were awarded attorney’s fees, and HACC agreed that all its property managers would undergo training on their obligations under the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act.  We hope that no other woman will be treated the way Mary Ann was."   
We are so proud of the work Neha does for clients like Mary Ann every day.  Way to go, Neha!
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Follow us on Twitter at @ChicagoLAF, like our Facebook page, catch up with us on Instagram,
andread our blog at lafchicago.wordpress.com to keep up with all our work!

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A special message
from LAF
Executive Director
Diana C. White
We have some things to celebrate this month (though not the weather!).  LAF turns 50 this year – and we salute all the people who’ve worked here in that time frame, and all the clients we’ve served, and all the supporters who’ve kept us afloat.    
One of those clients achieved a great victory this month, which will benefit her and her family.  But it will also change the way a local housing authority deals with women who are the targets of domestic violence. 
And we are encouraged that MacArthur Genius Award Winner Matthew Desmond has opened people’s eyes to one of the biggest problems poor people face:  eviction and what it does to communities.  Eviction happens because people living in poverty face the impossible task of juggling to pay their rent, put food on the table, keep the lights on, or have heat.  So it starts with poverty, and the no-win choices poverty imposes.  But once a family is evicted, it is driven even deeper into poverty by having to move into worse housing, living with more stress and illness, and often enduring job loss.  Children bounce from school to school until they drop out.  And homelessness is often the end result.   At LAF, we try to stop this cycle every day.  But Professor Desmond’s book, Evicted, has people talking about housing policy in a whole new way.
If only the State of Illinois had a budget, we would be full of hope and enthusiasm.  But it doesn’t – we are now at the end of month 10 of the current budget impasse, and there is no end in sight.  For LAF, no state budget means that, from July 1, 2015 to December 31, 2016, we will not be paid for almost $1 million in work the State has given us contracts to provide.  Our reserves fell by more than $800,000 in 2015.  The LAF Board will spend another $300,000 of our reserves in 2016 to help with an anticipated $620,000 deficit this year.  We are currently working hard to identify savings to fill the rest of the hole. 
As much as LAF has been hurt by the budget situation, many of our partners in the social service sector have been hurt much worse.  According to a recent United Way survey, 88% of respondents in Chicagoland have cut the number of clients they serve or eliminated whole programs.  Almost half of them have tapped into their cash reserves.  Nearly a third have laid off staff, and 5% have had to skip payrolls.   And, of course, the clients we all serve have been hit the hardest of all. 
The next 50 years at LAF are starting off with big challenges!
Diana C. White
LAF Executive Director
A Luncheon Fifty Years in the Making 
Get Your Tickets for June 17th!
In celebration of LAF's 50th Anniversary, you're invited to join us for a Luncheon fifty years in the making!  
Join LAF's past and present community on Friday, June 17th, at the Palmer House Hilton to celebrate a half century of incredible work and to honor everyone who helped LAF reach this milestone anniversary - including you!  A table for ten costs $5,000, and individual tickets cost $150 (with an alumni discount price of $100 for former LAF staff).  LAF alumni are also invited to a special reunion cocktail party after the Luncheon to catch up with old friends and share new stories. Get your tickets and tables online now!
From Firebombing To Safety 
Protecting Mary Ann's Family from Domestic Violence, Arson, and Housing Discrimination 
An LAF client has been in the Chicago news lately, and while her story is unique, it is not surprising.  We see people like Mary Ann every day: innocent victims discriminated against by overburdened systems.
Mary Ann and her LAF Attorney Neha Lall
When Mary Ann refused to let her daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend enter her apartment, he poured gasoline in the windows and set her public housing unit on fire.  After months of hospitalization and painful recovery, she faced homelessness because the housing authority blamed her for the fire damage and refused to rent her a new apartment.  With LAF’s help, Mary Ann is settled into a new public housing unit, and she will be receiving compensation to replace all of her personal property, most of which was thrown away by the housing authority while Mary Ann was in the hospital.
You can read more of Mary Ann’s story in the Chicago Tribune here, and on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s blog here.  Because of the incredible efforts of LAF attorney Neha Lall, profiled at left, and many others at LAF, Mary Ann is safe from homelessness and able to move forward with her life.
2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series 
Kicks Off on May 17th
Join LAF's Housing Experts to Discuss Housing Poverty Law, Evicted, and Cabrini-Green
Bring your lunch and join us at LAF on Tuesday, May 17th, for our first Lunchtime Brownbag Roundtable of 2016!  Our first roundtable will focus on the work of LAF's Housing Practice Group, and why preserving housing is critical to stabilizing the lives of people living in poverty.  Drawing on themes from 2015 MacArthur Foundation Fellow Matthew Desmond's recent bestselling book Evicted, attorneys in the Housing Practice Group will present a few case studies that tie Desmond's ideas to what is happening locally, and answer your questions.  The event is free, but space is limited, so please RSVP here if you plan to attend.  
Pick up a copy of Desmond's book Evicted (and support LAF through Amazon Smile while you're at it!), and check out a recent talk Desmond gave at Loyola University.  
National Recognition for
Human Trafficking Work 
Miguel Wins Prestigious Wellstone Award
We are proud to congratulate the Director of LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group, Miguel Keberlein, who received the Paul & Sheila Wellstone Award in a ceremony on April 4th.  It was awarded by the Freedom Network, a national alliance of advocates working with survivors of human trafficking.   The award is named in honor of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, both champions of human rights and justice. The Wellstone Award recognizes individuals and agencies that have made a unique or outstanding contribution to combating human trafficking and slavery in the United States.  Miguel received the award for his advocacy on behalf of migrant seasonal farm workers, who are often victims of human trafficking.  In his moving acceptance speech, he explained, "In the face of reality in a world that too often tells us we can’t, sometimes we are required to forge ahead by seeing the world for all that it can be... Together we can create a world where respecting human dignity is the cornerstone of our society, and where human trafficking is something of the past."  

You can read more about Miguel's award on our blog here.  Congratulations, Miguel!  We're proud of you! 
LAF Represents at MLP Conference 
Networking with National Leaders on
Medical-Legal Partnerships
Earlier this month, LAF sent a six member team to the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership Summit in Indianapolis to grow our expertise in this exciting new model for partnering with health care entities to fight poverty. 
LAF Staff members Kenya Burnett, Alison Coogan, Audra Passinault, Alice Setrini, and Carrie Chapman at the recent Medical-Legal Partnership Conference
LAF is working on five MLP’s with mission-aligned healthcare providers including Erie Family Health Center, Howard Brown Health Center, Rush University Medical Center’s Road Home program for veterans, and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.  Our MLPs enable us to reach vulnerable, hard to access populations, to work with a health care team to provide more comprehensive services to patient/clients and address the social and economic issues that are preventing them from achieving good health, and to access a new source of funding for providing our core legal services.  We are also collaborating with all the MLP’s in Illinois on a state-wide task force to coordinate our work and advocate for the model here in Illinois.
Check out LAF on Social Media!
Follow us on Twitter at @ChicagoLAF, like our Facebook page, catch up with us on Instagram, and read our blog at lafchicago.wordpress.com to keep up with all our work!
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For the past 50 years, LAF has provided free legal services in non-criminal matters to the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community, ensuring they have the same access to legal services as those who can afford it.  By resolving critical legal problems that systemically trap people in poverty, such as domestic violence, consumer fraud, and unfair evictions, LAF has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals get their lives back on track and given them hope for a brighter future.  We rely on the generous investment of individuals and companies to provide the private support we need to fulfill our mission.  
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