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Navigating the Aftermath of Disaster

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Photo of Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows
Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows at their training in 2018, with Equal Justice Works executive director David Stern (front left)

The 2017 hurricane season was one of the busiest and most destructive hurricane seasons on record, with billions of dollars in damages. Following the aftermath of these hurricanes, Equal Justice Works established the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps, a two-year program aimed at helping residents in disaster-affected communities in Texas and Florida, navigate the complex web of legal issues.

Launched in the summer of 2018, the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps has been on the front lines helping to rebuild communities and lives. In its first year, Fellows across Texas and Florida have made outstanding achievements in responding to current recovery needs, as well as strengthening the long-term capacity of legal aid organizations to administer services for future disasters.

From applying for FEMA benefits, to protecting against unscrupulous contractors and unlawful evictions, and ensuring those with physical disabilities can safely access their homes—Fellows have been a critical part of the recovery process in the communities where they serve.

In Texas, Fellows provided 9,080 individuals with legal information, and 2,815 individuals with counsel or direct representation, exceeding the program’s year-one performance measure target by almost 65 percent! Fellows in Texas have also managed to secure about $1.1 million in economic benefits for their clients in the first year.

Collaboration and partnership among Fellows and the wider community of disaster recovery organizations has been an essential part of the program. Fellow Christina Brown at Lone Star Legal Aid partnered with the American Red Cross and the Liberty County Disaster Recovery Group to schedule outreach events and provide information and resources to the citizens of Liberty County. Fellow Stephanie Duke, at Disability Rights Texas and Fellows Christina Brown, Carla (CJ) Krystyniak, Lauren Masullo, Chase Porter, and Meghan Smolensky at Lone Star Legal Aid worked with the American Association of Retired Persons to perform outreach, give presentations, and conduct a clinic on clearing titles for individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Rebuilding is an arduous process, and the needs of individuals who have experienced a disaster are profound and require multi-disciplinary responses. The Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows are working diligently to resolve the short and long-term legal needs of individuals who would otherwise be unable to secure disaster-related legal services.

Click here to learn more about the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellows.

The Disaster Recovery Legal Corps has received philanthropic support from the American Red Cross, Bigglesworth Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Florida Bar Foundation, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, Sharon and Ivan Fong Family Foundation, and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

* May 2018 to March 2019 reporting period

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow