May 16, 2019, Jon Hurdle - The Philadelphia Citizen
A Philadelphia mother recently found herself unable to pay her mortgage, in part because her estranged husband had stopped paying child support. She was on the brink of foreclosure, with a sheriff’s sale of her home not far behind.
Desperate to save her home, the woman went to Philadelphia Legal Assistance, at 7th and Arch streets, which provides free civil legal services to low-income Philadelphians. PLA obtained court enforcement of spousal support and then referred her to another legal aid group, Community Legal Services, at Broad and Chestnut streets. There, she told her story again, to a different lawyer, who helped her apply successfully for a loan modification. Together, the help enabled the woman to stay in her home.
It was a happy ending to what is commonly a tragic situation for so many families in Philadelphia. But it was not easy: Every trip to a lawyer’s office means time away from work, dealing with childcare, paying for transportation, duplicating paperwork.
“If somebody comes to your door and you are not able to help them, you hand them the card of the person who you think can help them who is down the street, or across the city,” says Jessica Hilburn-Holmes, executive director of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, which is leading the project. “The person might take that card and never go there and get that help.”
That’s why a dozen different legal organizations have come together to form the Equal Justice Center at 8th & Vine streets, to provide “one-stop shopping” for low-income Philadelphians who need civil legal services on issues such as domestic violence, wrongful eviction and child support, all in one place.