There are exciting things happening in St. Ambrose’s Legal Services program. On Monday, March 18, 2013 two things occured. The program launched a new webpage which allows people facing a legal problems to send a question and complete intake securely online. This was made possible by a grant from the Baltimore Bar Foundation.
Also on Monday, the Legal Department was featured in the Maryland Daily Record in an article by Joe Surkiewicz [Full Article: Subscriber Access Required]. Legal Director Jeanette Cole and Executive Director Gerard Joab were interviewed and quoted in the story:
Getting the legal program on track is Jeanette Cole, who joined St. Ambrose last year as director of legal services.
“The plan is not only to address foreclosure head-on, but to assist people before the problems lead to foreclosure — such as with consumer debt and credit reports,” Cole said. “When people are in financial distress, an appointment to see a lawyer is not always a priority, or even a hurdle they think they have to deal with. So it pays to be proactive. And it helps to have housing counselors, who the clients see first and are often referred to a lawyer here.”
Currently, Cole has one staff attorney and is in the process of hiring another. “We’re going out into the community, working with community organizers and offering a lawyer for free sitting at a desk and talking to clients,” she said.
Preventative issues that can be resolved with the help of a lawyer include helping people get the public benefits they’re entitled to.
Jeanette Cole shared a few recent client stories:
One recent client is a woman who has been raising her grandchild for 10 years. “The father was paying the mother child support, but not the grandmother,” Cole said. “With our assistance, she got the pro se forms and a family law attorney. Now she gets the child support paid directly to her.”
As a result, the grandmother can now afford to move to a safer neighborhood. “This impacts the quality of life for the child,” Cole noted. “That’s not foreclosure work. But it improved the quality of housing and the quality of the child’s life.”
Another result of outreach: “We found a house where rooms are rented and an entire family was living in one room,” Cole said. “We assisted them when the house went into foreclosure. The landlord didn’t tell them! With our help, they weren’t put out on the street.
“Foreclosure is such a final step for people,” Cole added. “Foreclosure prevention is ultimately what we’re about, using housing counselors and lawyers. We help them before things get too bad.”
Regarding the Department’s revamped priorities and intake process:
So far, Cole and her staff are meeting the foreclosure prevention demand. “When people are in distress, you can’t tell them to come back in two weeks,” she said. “It’s important that they know they spoke with a lawyer. We have open intake, not just certain hours.”
The bottom line is direct services to clients.
“It’s important and part of St. Ambrose’s history,” Joab said. “If you need help, this is where you come.”
St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center’s Legal Department can be reached in the following ways:
Phone: 410-366-8550 x249