Before the pandemic hit and the wildfires decimated entire communities, there was already a housing crisis in Oregon. The majority of lower-income Oregonians were already rent burdened and a large percentage of people in our state were spending more than half of their monthly income on their rent. There was no wiggle room to begin with.
Today, as you read this email, 1,700 people in Portland are living on the streets. On any given night, another 2,500 people will sleep in emergency shelters. This is not just a Portland problem. Although homelessness is often considered an urban problem, our recent civil legal needs study found that households in the most rural counties reported being affected by homelessness at a rate more than 3 times higher than those reported in the most urban counties.
Poverty isn’t indiscriminate. There are systems in place that perpetuate poverty, inequity, racism, and misogyny, but the antidote is justice. Oregon lawyers established the Campaign for Equal Justice in 1991 with the mission of making equal access to justice a reality for all Oregonians. Almost 30 years later, we continue to work toward that goal.
One voice alone can’t paint the picture of the tireless work legal aid attorneys are doing to ensure that all Oregonians have their most critical legal needs met. Today we highlight the work of Patrick Chaney, a staff attorney at Legal Aid Services of Oregon in Roseburg, Oregon.
The Campaign for Equal Justice is grateful to Patrick for taking the time to share some of his story with us.
When I was in law school, I volunteered at a Legal Aid office. I knew then what I wanted to do. Once I passed the bar, I joined Legal Aid Services of Oregon in Roseburg and I never looked back.
Legal aid serves Oregon from 17 regional offices staffed by 108 attorneys and I am now one of those attorneys. We are the final step of recourse for a low-income Oregonian. If a tenant shouldn’t be evicted and there is a process in place trying to evict them, I show up to make the argument. I am that final step. I feel a great deal of responsibility in that.
Our work has become even more important now during this pandemic. Low-income workers, domestic violence survivors, homeless people, and farmworker communities are already under a great deal of stress, and these current circumstances don’t help. Although physical offices are closed, the 108 attorneys in this state are still working hard, and thanks to technology and perseverance, we are reaching more people than ever before.
Unfortunately for many of our clients--especially in rural areas--access to the internet is limited. So I meet them where they are. For some, that means mailing the form they need or leaving useful information in a dropbox outside my office. If it becomes necessary, I meet with my clients, masked and six feet apart, in a public park. I do all of this to make sure that justice endures.
I am lucky to work with a small, cohesive staff. Daily virtual staff meetings keep us connected, which helps me to know that the folks in my area will still have help when they need it, especially now. With the moratorium on no-cause and non-payment of rent evictions, working to make sure landlords honor the moratorium has become a large part of the work I do.
Some of our clients have lost work and are now many months behind on their rent. Sadly, there are cases where landlords are trying to get people out of their homes by turning off the utilities. This is of course illegal, so that’s where legal aid steps in to help. .
There is so much to be done and legal aid needs your support now more than ever. Knowing that we have organizations like the CEJ supporting us allows us to keep pushing into new areas of impact work that we might not have had the resources to be able to address otherwise. Work like criminal expungement that helps clean up the criminal records of people who have worked to turn over a new leaf. It feels good to help.
Legal aid helps ensure fairness in the justice system, even during a pandemic.
That’s the reason I do it.