The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County's vision is for every person to have the basic necessities of life, including safe affordable housing, access to health care, economic security, secure immigration status, an appropriate education and freedom from violence and abuse.
We strive to empower people to overcome the causes and effects of poverty so they can participate in their community with dignity and respect.
We seek to remove barriers related to poverty, disability, race, language, age, gender, sexual orientation and immigration status through community education, legal representation, systemic advocacy and collaboration with community partners.
Legal Aid Helps a Survivor of Domestic Violence Find Relief From Years of Abuse
Domestic violence is a problem in every community: one in three women will experience physical abuse in their lifetime. Access to legal services is critical in enabling survivors to become free from abuse and establish independent and permanent functional family units. A recent study concluded that the "availability of legal services has a significant, negative effect on the incidence of abuse" and that offering "long-term, realistic alternatives to their relationships" is a key component for women leaving abusive relationships.
"Natalie" became a Legal Aid client after being married to "Paul" for 20 years. They have three young children. Ever since the start of their marriage, Paul has abused Natalie.
Paul had a drug addiction, and was in and out of jail many times. His children were afraid of him, and suffered from panic attacks when he was around. He was violent at home: breaking glass in the children's bedrooms, punching through the television, shattering the car windows, and ruining the carpets. Paul even purposefully sabotaged the sump pump in the basement, causing the house to flood.
Paul frequently yelled at Natalie in front of their children. He spit in her face, and even threatened to kill her. Paul would not refer to Natalie by her name, only by "bitch." After an episode in which Paul poured hot beans on Natalie's body and threw lard in her hair, Natalie filed a police report, leading to a temporary restraining order against Paul. But even after the temporary order was filed, Paul continued to violate it, leaving Natalie and her children no less afraid than before.
Natalie needed a permanent restraining order. She was referred to Legal Aid's Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon by partner Bay Area Legal Aid, who, along with Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA), comprises our Domestic Violence Collaborative. Janet turned to her pro bono network andplaced the case with Jonathan Joannides-- an attorney with Wilson Sonsini-- who agreed to represent Natalie in court. With pro bono help from Jonathan, Natalie was granted a permanent restraining order, including full protection for her children and no visitation rights for Paul. Paul cannot violate this order without facing criminal charges.
Although no form of legal action can undo the suffering they endured, thanks to your generous support, Natalie and her children got the legal assistance they needed to begin to move forward.
Legal Aid Protects Tenants From "No-Cause" Evictions
Within days of the sale, the new owners of a four-unit building gave "no cause" eviction notices to each of the building's tenants. The investors who bought the building planned to renovate all the units so they could be rented to new tenants able to pay higher rents.
Suddenly long-term residents of the building had just 60 days to vacate their homes, a tight timeline under normal circumstances, but especially difficult given the county's high housing costs and low vacancy rates. With too few affordable apartments available, it's nearly impossible for families to identify a new home, save up for a security deposit and other expenses, and move. The families were facing the very real possibility of becoming homeless before finding any housing at all. Three of the households, all Hispanic families with children, came to one of Legal Aid's three weekly housing clinics for help.
Our housing attorney worked with the families to formulate a plan to keep them housed. The attorney was able to negotiate with the landlord to extend the 60-day deadline to move by an additional ten weeks, and forgo rent charges for two months so that the families could save their money for the cost of moving.
The extra time and ability to save some of their income not only prevented these families from needing to use emergency shelter services, but also gave each family time to relocate to stable housing. Although one family had to move to the East Bay, the other two were able to stay in the area and keep their kids in the same schools.
In these most uncertain of times, Legal Aid continues to provide our clients with the counsel and representation that they need to keep stability in their lives.
Legal Aid's FAP Program Helps This Family to Obtain Healthcare Services
"Brianna" is a medically fragile child who was discharged from the hospital with a diagnosis of a serious medical condition. She qualified for at-home nursing care under her health care coverage, but after several months had passed, her insurer was still looking for a qualified nurse to be assigned to her case.
Brianna's mother Mary, though not a medical professional, had assumed the sole responsibility for her daughter's care and was exhausted and overwhelmed.
Following a referral from our partner agency Community Gatepath, Brianna's case came to Legal Aid's Peninsula Family Advocacy Program (FAP), a medical-legal partnership that addresses legal problems which adversely impact the health of low-income patients.
The FAP attorney discussed the case with Mary, and informed her of Brianna's legal right to appropriate at-home care. The attorney then immediately filed a grievance with the Health Plan. Shortly after the grievance was filed, Brianna was hospitalized again. In the meantime, Brianna's nursing care was approved and a nurse was assigned to care for Brianna as soon as she was discharged from the hospital.
Mary is relieved that her daughter is now receiving the appropriate care at home, and grateful that Brianna's health and wellbeing are now being supported by a skilled nurse.
Legal Aid continues to stay the course for our clients, providing legal remedies to families like Mary and Brianna's.
Legal Aid Provides Support For A Veteran
In 2014, San Mateo County conducted an in-depth assessment of veterans' needs in our community. Legal Aid Executive Director Stacey Hawver, Pro Bono Director Janet Seldon, and Board Member Leticia Toledo, all served on the Steering Committee, bringing a unique perspective developed from Legal Aid's decades of service to veterans, more than 32,000 of whom reside in San Mateo County (you may read the full report here).
"John," a veteran who returned from service with Post Traumatic Brain Injury (PTBI), lives on a fixed income in a modest mobile home, in a rent-stabilized mobile home park. His PTBI symptoms, including agitation, raised voice, and terrible anxiety, can appear threatening to those who don't realize that the troubled veteran has never been violent toward anyone. As a result, complaints from neighbors about John's erratic behavior prompted his landlord to threaten him with eviction. Fearing the loss of his home, John came to Legal Aid.
The attorney investigated the facts and determined from John's doctor that John's symptoms had worsened due a problem with his medication, which the doctor successfully adjusted. Legal Aid was then able to assert John's right, as a person with a disability, to be accommodated by his landlord, giving him a second chance to demonstrate that his problems were being addressed, and allowing him to keep his affordable home.
Help For A Family With Disabilities
"Diana" is a single mother, who became homeless after being laid off from her job. By the time Diana had found another job, the CalFresh application she had submitted in the interim had been denied for reasons of "incorrect paperwork." Certain she had done everything correctly, Diana turned to Legal Aid's LIBRE (Linking Immigrants to Benefits Resources and Education) program, where an attorney confirmed that Diana had, indeed, followed all proper procedures, and eventually won for her family not only ongoing CalFresh benefits, but $1,500 in overdue benefits.
But that wasn't the end of the story: the LIBRE attorney also identified other legal issues keeping Diana and her family from stabilizing their tenuous living situation. She connected Diana to other community resources to help with her housing situation, and referred Diana to another Legal Aid attorney who specializes in special education, after she learned that one of Diana's children had not been attending school.
Legal Aid Remains a Vital Resource for Vulnerable Seniors in our Community
Mr. Orozco is a disabled Spanish-speaking senior who recently had a stroke that left him using a wheelchair and dependent on his family for his daily care needs. He was referred to Legal Aid by his Aging and Adult Services Social Worker because Mr. Orozco was being abused by his adult son, who lived with him. The son physically and verbally, abused not only Mr. Orozco but also his wife, and minor daughter. The son took further advantage of his father by living rent-free without contributing to any of the household expenses.
he Legal Aid attorney secured an Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Restraining Order with an immediate move-out provision against Mr. Orozco's son, which extended the protections of the order to Mr. Orozco's wife and minor daughter. They are now safe from Mr. Orozco's son.
A Child With Disabilities Can Now Participate Fully in Her Education
Cristina, a pre-K student with a complex medical condition, was referred to FAP by her pediatrician because she wasn't getting the support she needed to participate in school. Because of her significant physical impairments, she needs special equipment in school to help her participate in class, which she has both the desire and ability to do when given the appropriate supportive services.
Cristina has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) stating that she should have a stander, and other equipment to help her in school, but by January of the school year the equipment was not yet in place. Without it, Cristina could not fully participate in her school activities. For example, the district did not put Cristina on stage in her wheelchair to participate in the December holiday performance with her classmates, instead leaving her alone and devastated while the rest of her class was singing to their parents.
Frustrated with the situation, Cristina's parents sought help from FAP and Legal Aid. FAP wrote a letter describing how the lack of equipment contributed to Cristina's lack of real inclusion in the classroom, and requesting that the equipment be ordered and her teachers trained on how to use it.
The school district immediately placed the order for Cristina's equipment, and agreed to train her teachers to use it. FAP was also able to connect the family to pro bono attorneys who can continue to help with Cristina's ongoing special education plan, and she is finally able to fully participate in school.
A Mother Gets Benefits to Feed Her Family
Marcia is a single mother, raising her family while blind and deaf. Her young son Anthony, who has a speech disability of his own, has just started school, more than a mile from their home. Though the school district provides extra resources to deal with Anthony's learning issues, there is no provision for him to receive transportation assistance. But for Marcia, this is a heavy burden: the daily walk to and from her child's school is difficult and dangerous.
In the past, Marcia has turned to Legal Aid for help with issues regarding her own health benefits, and at a recent meeting in the Legal Aid office, she expressed her concerns about getting Anthony to and from school safely.
Getting in touch with district officials, the attorney was able to make the case that the district's policy regarding transportation for those with significant disability should extend to the entire family, not just the child attending school. Following this appeal, the district was able to accommodate Marcia's needs, and provide transportation for Anthony, even though his disability wouldn't normally qualify for that assistance.
To protect client confidentiality, all client names have been changed.