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After the Bar

Public Service

Mobile Justice Squad for Seniors

Geraldine DeBianchi

Mobile Justice Squad for Seniors

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A June 2018 study, “The Silver Tsunami: Is Broward Ready,” identified issues and challenges facing the elderly in Broward County, including coordination of and access to services resulting from isolation and lack of mobility. Coast to Coast Legal Aid (CCLA), the only free legal services provider in Broward County dedicated to serving seniors, struggled to help seniors who couldn’t come to our offices.

What Is the Mobile Justice Squad?

We found out about American Bar Endowment (ABE) Opportunity Grants and saw that some had gone to organizations that wanted to launch mobile justice units. We were thrilled to receive the call in February 2020 that the ABE awarded a grant to us to fund the purchase of a van for the Mobile Justice Squad, delivering legal services to elderly clients who are isolated or homebound due to geography, disability, income, or lack of transportation. 

How We Made a Difference

The Mobile Justice Squad is more than one story. It is an amalgam of real-life legal needs unexpectedly met for those who thought they were alone without any help or hope in sight. As the Mobile Justice Squad staff attorney, I hear people use words like lifesaver, godsend, angel, and one of my favorites, a miracle on wheels, to describe the services. The gratitude is palpable. I want to tell you about some clients we’ve helped (names have been changed to protect confidentiality).

Mr. Smith

Mr. Smith, an 86-year-old legally blind man, was recently widowed and at risk of losing his home to foreclosure. Simultaneously, he lost his wife and vision, which caused him to fall behind in his monthly mortgage payments. Initially, I was able to assist Mr. Smith in negotiating a loan modification. When Mr. Smith contacted our office for legal services, our intake staff discovered he had no access to transportation, and as a result of the pandemic, was very isolated. The mobile office brought Mr. Smith such relief and ultimately made it possible for him to keep his home.

Combatting the devastating effects of isolation and loneliness and identifying seniors’ other needs, such as access to healthcare, public benefits, and housing, have been the mobile unit’s incredible ancillary benefits, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms. Jones

Another client Ms. Jones called about a legal matter not handled by Coast to Coast. During my initial call with her, I asked her if she had fallen behind on her rent. The stress and anxiety were evident in her voice. She told me she was afraid of losing her subsidized housing voucher because she couldn’t pay the rent. I was able to refer her to another Coast to Coast program that helps with rent payments. Her relief and appreciation were evident.

ABE Opportunity Grants

The ABE grant helped us prove that mobile justice works in our community. Our sister organization, Legal Aid Services of Broward County, is currently exploring how the model can serve other populations, like veterans, who might face similar challenges to getting to a stationary office.

Opportunity Grants are made possible because of ABE insureds who participate in ABE-sponsored insurance programs and donate their dividends. We are grateful to those lawyers for their support. If you practice in the Broward County area of Florida, we invite you to visit Pro Bono—Coast to Coast Legal Aid to learn about volunteer opportunities.

Mobile justice programs are being developed across the country, and many of them are seeking pro bono lawyers to help with service delivery. You can reach out to legal services organizations or your state or local bar association to learn more about mobile justice in your community.