Vicky Kimbrell (John Disney/Daily Report)
In 2014, Georgia received a three-year grant from the federal Office of Victims of Crime to provide holistic wraparound civil legal services to victims of crime. At its core, holistic legal representation calls on us to look beyond the single legal crisis of the moment and search for its underlying causes. We then use multidisciplinary teams of lawyers and community agencies to resolve the core issues that keep clients in poverty and at risk of future victimization.
Like all of us, Mary hoped her later years would be peaceful and secure, but she continued to face increasing abuse from her alcoholic husband. Not only that, but her husband took Mary’s Social Security checks and withheld money for food and household necessities. Without help, Mary felt that independence from her husband was nearly impossible. But after GLSP’s representation, Mary now lives in an apartment on her own and receives the Social Security check she’s long been entitled to for herself. Using our network, we were able to get Mary’s monthly food stamp benefit increased from $16 to $194. Looking beyond the immediate legal crisis and at the broader issues ultimately resulted in a new life for Mary, one where she is safe and in full control of her livelihood.
The Victim Legal Assistance Network (VLAN) project has brought together four legal services firms—Georgia Legal Services, Atlanta Legal Aid Society, the Georgia Asylum and Immigrant Network, and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. We’ve all partnered with community providers to think outside the box to help victims. The largest group of crime victims served are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; though the project also serves victims of elder abuse and identify theft.
When a crime victim contacts a partner, a VLAN “navigator” determines what legal representation is needed and which of a broad group of community agencies could serve the caller. Current partners include domestic violence agencies, sexual assault centers, the Department of Family and Children Services, elder abuse agencies, pro se law library clinics, pro bono lawyers, law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judiciary representatives, the State Bar Pro Bono office and others.
The network can provide an attorney to obtain a temporary protective order that removes the abuser from the house and can secure custody of children, child support, spousal support, health insurance and possession of the home and transportation. Victims who are eligible for special immigration visas or other immigration-related legal protections are referred to legal experts at Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN).
Our years of experience have shown us that victims need financial stability to get them and their children out of violent households for the long term, or they will end up with no alternative but to return to the abuser. All callers to GLSP’s VLAN project are screened for eligibility for health care programs such as Medicaid, PeachCare, Affordable Care Act coverage, Medicare Savings Programs, prescription drug discount programs and temporary assistance for needy families, childcare subsidies, energy assistance, Social Security benefits, supplemental security income (SSI), earned income tax credits and emergency phones.
Georgia Legal Services and Atlanta Legal Aid have successfully saved homes for victims who were being evicted from their subsidized housing because the abusers caused the police to be called out or caused damage to the apartment. AVLF’s navigator, who serves as a full-time social worker in the Safe Families Office in the Fulton County Courthouse, connects survivors with various community resources, including shelter, emergency financial assistance, public benefits, clothing closets and counseling services. AVLF’s VLAN staff attorney helps find a pro bono attorney to represent survivors with family law needs.
Navigators review food stamp budgets, file benefits applications and renewals and, when needed, help clients apply for victim compensation. Such compensation can pay up to $25,000 of medical costs or loss of support.
The navigator in each legal services agency helps direct victims to the services that will be most helpful to a client and eases the transition to working with the relevant community partner. The VLAN grant, which is administered by the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and includes a research partnership with Georgia State University, also provides for partner trainings that focus on how best to make such collaborations work for clients.
The network needs pro bono attorneys to help provide additional legal assistance including, divorces, bankruptcies, and personal injury cases. Clients also need transportation assistance, counseling services, housing assistance, and a myriad of additional services.
More information for clients and volunteers can be found at www.georgiacrimevictims.org. In metro Atlanta, you can refer clients to ALAS at 404-524-5811 or AVLF at 404-521-3434. For more information or to refer a client outside the five metro counties, you can contact the GLSP Navigator at 404-563-7710, Ext. 1602.