A Year of Challenges, A Year of Solutions: Threat to Safety
Our annual report reflects on 2020 by sharing how PLA used its strengths to develop creative and innovative solutions to overcome the challenges brought on by the global pandemic. One of the most significant challenges our clients faced was threat to safety. Through trauma-informed, creative advocacy and outreach, our advocates ensured that Philadelphians were safe and supported.
Challenge: Threat to Safety
Medical-Legal Community Partnership: In 2020, 1,214 Philadelphians died from drug overdoses. The pandemic only exacerbated the existing opioid crisis, with fatal overdoses suffered by black Philadelphians spiking by more than 50%. Our MLCP fosters the holistic health of individuals recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) by embedding legal advocates in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs to resolve complex issues that lead to or exacerbate opioid use, including income loss, housing instability, and family safety. As Philadelphians faced the social and economic fallout of the pandemic, our MLCP was an essential lifeline for patients in need of legal support.
Family Law Unit: The pandemic lockdowns made domestic violence situations more frequent, more dangerous, and more difficult for survivors to reach out for help. Survivors were often trapped with their abusers, and existing warrants for arrests of abusers were not being enforced. When children were withheld from parents when lockdown began, PLA was there to ensure that rightful parents regained custody. As survivors navigated an unresponsive court system and increased threats to their and their children’s safety, PLA remained a lifeline. PLA set up a referral system with Philadelphia’s District Attorney Office of Family Violence to refer victim witnesses directly to PLA for support.
“In addition to generating cases and directly helping survivors, I think it (the referral program) has really improved and increased communication between FLU and the DAO family violence unit. The victim witness coordinators are really helpful and ADA's are more readily available to discuss and more willing to share evidence.”
Consumer Housing Unit: Evictions and foreclosures are always a public health hazard with devastating consequences. During a pandemic, the threat is elevated: people kicked out of their houses can’t stay safe or quarantine at home. Our advocates worked tirelessly to ensure that tenants and homeowners were protected, aware of their rights, and able to access available assistance programs. When foreclosures resumed in August 2020, threatening homeowners’ safety and security, PLA ensured that as many Philadelphians as possible knew how to take advantage of federal forbearance programs through a number of Zoom sessions and live streams on Facebook, and challenged lenders who did not uphold forbearance agreements. By connecting tenants and landlords with mediators through Philadelphia’s Eviction Diversion Program, PLA helped hundreds reach resolutions to avoid eviction and remain safe in their homes.
Pennsylvania Farmworker Project: As soon as COVID-19 became widespread, farmworkers faced huge risks due to their status as essential workers, crowded living arrangements, and, for temporary H-2A visa workers, the need for international travel. PLA adapted to meet these needs and share information on newly created COVID-19 worker protections and stimulus payments, as well as pre-existing protections, including unemployment benefits and workplace health and safety regulations.”