Buses part of larger Reach Justice Project aimed at bridging the legal divide through increased technology, mobility, and access for all
ST. PAUL, MN / ACCESSWIRE / July 29, 2021 / Spurred by a growing reckoning of the need for equal access to legal services across Minnesota, a first-of-its-kind fleet of mobile legal clinics have found their way across Minnesota with a launch from the State Capitol this morning. Four mobile Justice Buses left Capitol grounds this morning to travel across Minnesota and serve Minnesotans in need.
Services will be provided in mobile mini-buses and staffed by attorneys from organizations affiliated with the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition (MLSC). Civil legal services are offered free to citizens needing assistance with civil matters such as help obtaining rental assistance, forestalling evictions, and legal issues arising from the pandemic.
"Over the past few years - and especially during the pandemic - the need for equal access and availability to legal services has become more and more apparent," said Drew Schaffer, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, a MLSC member. "These needs range from simple legal services like finding rental assistance or navigating public benefits has steadily risen. A big part of the problem is people either can't afford the services or lack access. These mobile legal clinics will find their way across Minnesota and help Minnesotans."
Designed by the MLSC, the free legal clinics are modeled after similar successful programs popping up across the nation over the past few years. The idea of bringing free civil legal services where they are most needed is helping unlock the power of the law for everyone.
"We have found that many people don't know the legal rights they have, whether they are to protect them in their everyday lives or to plan for a bright future," said Dori Streit, executive director of Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, a MLSC member. "There are also barriers in terms of access to qualified attorneys and barriers based on price. By taking the power of the law directly to people, the barriers are gone, and everyone can enjoy the protections our laws afford us equally and unequivocally."
The buses were funded through a combination of grants from MLSC members and through the federal CARES Act as authorized by the Minnesota legislature. The buses are one part of the Reach Justice Minnesota initiative, a series of initiatives that leverage technology and emergency staffing to help protect Minnesotans' basic civil and human rights. As the pandemic continues to abate, people are venturing out more and taking care of legal and other matters that had sat dormant for a year or more.
"We want all Minnesotans to know we are here for them to provide legal services for them," said Jessie Nicholson, Esq., CEO of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, a MLSC member. "In our mobile legal clinics, you will find talented lawyers and legal assistants who will help you navigate the legal system and unwrap its potential for you."
Each mobile legal clinic features private and semi-private meeting spaces as well as commonly used legal forms and information. Lawyers and paralegals are able to meet with residents and discuss their legal needs. All services are offered free of charge.
"We are delivering on the concept of intentional proximity or the idea that we should be where we know people who need these civil legal services are. We need to go to the need," said Anne Hoefgen, executive director of Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, a MLSC member. "These four Justice Buses will be easily visible parts of our communities, but more importantly, they will be highly effective parts of our community that deliver access to the law and justice for everyone."
Four free mobile legal clinics will operate throughout Minnesota on an ongoing basis, stopping by community centers and events. Individual bus schedules and locations will be made available in the near future.
About Reach Justice Minnesota and the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition (MLSC)
Reach Justice Minnesota (www.reachjustice.org) is a series of initiatives that leverage technology and emergency staffing to help protect Minnesotans' basic civil and human rights in the face of unprecedented emergency and disaster. The initiatives are promoted through the collaboration of Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid who collectively make up the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition. In addition to the Justice Buses, initiatives include more than 250 legal kiosks across the state as well as additional investment in LawHelpMN, an online portal providing access to legal information. For more information, please visit www.reachjustice.org or call 720-409-7605.
About Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA)
Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and a partner in the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition. Our attorneys, staff, and volunteers handle civil legal matters for Minnesota's most vulnerable people for no charge. In addition to direct legal representation, we work with policy makers, advocating equal rights and equal protections under the law. Each year, MMLA receives more than 100,000 calls for legal help. We closed more than 10,000 cases in 2019 alone. The mission of MMLA is to advocate for the legal rights of disadvantaged people to have safe, healthy, and independent lives in strong communities. For more information, please visit mylegalaid.org. Media inquiries can be directed to Drew Schaffer, [email protected], 612-746-3702.
About Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM)
Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) is a non-profit regional law firm and has been the legal aid provider to the northeastern region of Minnesota since 1952. In that time, it has become an integral part of the justice system and a cornerstone of the community's commitment to the proposition that equal access to justice is a basic human right. LASNEM provides critical civil legal services at no charge in matters that impact people's security, safety, and well-being. LASNEM consists of a staff program and a Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) program who provide civil legal services to 11 counties covering 27,683 square miles of northeastern Minnesota. For more information about Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota, please visit www.lasnem.org. Media inquiries can be directed to Rachel Albertson, [email protected], 218-454-1701
About Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS)
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) is a non-profit law firm that provides free, high-quality legal services to low-income people in critical civil matters. We receive federal, state, local, public and private funding to provide free legal help to low income and elderly people who reside in 33 counties of southern Minnesota, as well as the areas served by its farm worker unit. SMRLS is a client-centered organization which is committed to its mission of providing a full range of high-quality legal services, in a respectful manner which enables clients to enforce their legal rights; to maintain freedom from hunger, homelessness, sickness and abuse; and to empower persons and ensure equal opportunity, thus, helping persons to help themselves and to become economically self-reliant, to the extent their individual abilities and circumstances permit. For more information, please visit www.smrls.org. Media inquiries can be directed to Jessie Nicholson, [email protected] or 651-228-9823.
About Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM) is a non-profit organization established to provide free legal services to low-income people in non-criminal cases across twenty-two counties in northwest Minnesota. For more information, please visit www.lsnmlaw.org. Media inquiries can be directed to Kelly Wencl, [email protected] or 218-422-7035.
Justice Bus Media Inquiries:
To arrange an interview regarding the Justice Bus launch, please contact Paul Omodt at [email protected] or 952-607-9434.
SOURCE: Minnesota Legal Services Coalition