NYLAG Storm Response Kicks into High Gear

Below is a letter from NYLAG President Yisroel Schulman, updating the community on NYLAG’s continued response to assist the immediate victims of Sandy:

Dear Friends of NYLAG, The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Since the storm hit, NYLAG attorneys have been working on the ground as first responders, helping victims with FEMA applications, public benefits, housing issues, insurance and other immediate legal needs. The stories they are bringing back put a human face on this disaster:

  • A young couple expecting their second child who lost everything when their basement apartment flooded and needed our immediate help to find safe shelter.
  • An immigrant father and daughter whose residency and citizenship applications were suddenly derailed and put in jeopardy after the storm hit.
  • A disabled elderly man who proudly claimed he had no need of legal advice, only to discover that he is eligible not only for FEMA assistance but also for Medicare and Social Security benefits he had not been receiving.
  • A domestic violence victim served with eviction papers who did not know that there is a citywide moratorium on all evictions.

NYLAG itself has been hard hit by the storm. Our office in lower Manhattan was badly damaged and we are working out of temporary donated space across the city. We are grateful to UJA-Federation for housing our headquarters operations (pictured above), and to the many private law firms that have opened their doors and their hearts to our legal program staff.

At the same time, NYLAG has been refining its comprehensive disaster relief program that will address the long-term needs of victims, based on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The program leverages three key service delivery components:

  • Onsite deployment of attorneys at community sites throughout impacted areas, thanks to strong partnerships with hundreds of community-based organizations, city officials, and law firms offering extensive pro bono resources;
  • The Mobile Legal Help Center, a law office and courtroom on wheels that can travel directly into the hardest hit areas; and
  • A new Storm Help Hotline, to ensure that no storm victim is forced to navigate the recovery process alone.

This three-pronged approach is already in motion. After Sandy struck, the Mobile Legal Help Center immediately increased its operations from four to six days per week and is now operating in the areas hit hardest by the storm. In addition to its existing community partners, NYLAG is also coordinating with grassroots organizations such as the Red Hook Initiative that have sprung up to address the immense need. And we are expanding our Hotline to meet the continuing increase in calls.

NYLAG’s Mobile Legal Help Center has been out every day this week in the hardest hit areas, including Red Hook (pictured above), Staten Island, and Far Rockaway. More locations are being scheduled for the days and weeks ahead.

The stormhelp webpage offers updates about the new Storm Response Unit as it develops, including a calendar that is being updated in real time to show where attorneys and volunteers are being deployed. Printable flyers are available in English and Spanish.

Organizationally, a new Storm Response Unit was officially launched this week, with a dedicated staff supported by scores of part-time attorneys, many volunteering on their own time or working overtime in response to the unprecedented demand. We know that we cannot do this alone. I am gratified by the outpouring of support from the legal community – we have been inundated with requests from volunteers. This week we co-hosted, with Pro Bono Net, a Pro Bono Disaster Relief Webinar for over 600 attorneys. And we are already planning our next webinar for later this week. I want to close by thanking our donors, community-based partners, law firms, individual lawyers and others who have joined us in this effort. I also want to recognize the extraordinary NYLAG staff who have been on the front lines, despite the fact that many of them were personally affected by the storm. Even without power, water or heat in some cases, they still managed to keep working, maintaining their caseloads while gearing up to help those affected by the storm. Storm Sandy’s destruction in New York has no precedent. But with your support I believe our response will be unprecedented as well, ensuring that NYLAG fulfills its mission to protect the legal rights of vulnerable New Yorkers in their time of extreme need. Sincerely yours, Yisroel Schulman President & Attorney-in-Charge