SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) It’s called the justice gap: only one legal aid attorney for every 6,000 eligible low-income Americans. In San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point, a non-profit agency is working to change that by trying to take every case in the neighborhood.
In college, Adrian Tirtanadi had an idea, that free legal help was the most effective anti-poverty tool available. But there was a problem:
“Virtually nobody I talked to thought it would work,” he remembered.
One person did: his law school friend Virginia Taylor.
“Virginia was the only one I ever met that was crazy enough to want to try,” Tirtanadi said.
Taylor’s family kind of though she was crazy too.
“My mother went up to the social worker that we worked with and said, ‘What have you done to my daughter? You’re going to make her poor for the rest of her life?'” Taylor said with a laugh.
Now, four years after launching “Bayview Hunter’s Point Community Legal,” the co-founders have made it work. In a small office shared with the Salvation Army, the non-profit employs four lawyers, and has nearly 200 volunteer law students and paralegals. They’ve taken on nearly 1,000 cases, and closed almost 70% of them, all without charging a dime.
And because 80% of their clients make less than $15,000 a year, it’s clear the neighborhood can use the free legal help.
“We really believed that with enough passion for our clients and resources and connections that we could solve any legal problem,” Taylor explained.
Michelle Carrington brought one of those problems. She came to Bayview Hunter’s Point Community Legal to report mold growing on the walls of her public housing apartment, and heat that hadn’t worked in years, and disgusting plumbing problems.
“Human feces was backing up into my bathtub, the toilet overflowed,” Carrington said. “It got to be really, really bad to where I could not use the bathroom. I could not bathe.”
Finally, with a lawyer by her side, Carrington got all those problems fixed.
Because the system is working, Tirtanadi and Taylor would like to expand.
“(We’d like to) eventually create enough centers to ensure universal access for everyone in San Francisco, prove that the concept can work on a big scale,” Tirtanadi said.
Carrington is just grateful it’s working in the Bayview.
“Now we have someone here, right at home, who actually care and they’re doing things and they’re making it possible for people to do good up here and be safe and be comfortable you know without being sick so I thank God for them.”
So for providing free legal care to the underserved community of Bayview Hunter’s Point, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Adrian Tirtanadi and Virginia Taylor.