“[T]he health and maturity of the American legal system depend upon whether or not those who are the outcasts in society — the poor, the socially discriminated against, the politically unpopular — are, as a practical matter, represented in their rights and complaints and causes before the law.” William Stringfellow, My People is the Enemy, p. 40.
Our American legal system is quite ill. The lack of access to justice creates a dire situation that imprisons the poor and marginalized in cells of economic insecurity and legal turmoil.
I am an attorney for the poor and marginalized. I am blessed work with Mission Waco-Mission World as director of Mission Waco Legal Services. Providing legal services for those in need but who cannot afford to pay the going rates is a passion of mine. The need is dire. Although not always the hottest topic among philanthropists and other givers, we desperately need all of you to provide financial resources and other capacity-building means to meet the legal needs of not only low-income individuals and households, but also those of the lower middle-class (a rapidly growing group). If you cannot give financially, then help us advocate among those able to support us with the resources sorely needed or right where you are get involved in countless other ways in the fight to provide justice for all.
National studies led the U.S. Supreme Court to state, “The middle 70% of our population is not being reached or served adequately by the legal profession.” This middle 70% does not include the bottom 10% that theoretically qualify for legal aid, but nationally for every client served by free legal aid services, one qualified client is turned away. In Texas, there is approximately one legal aid lawyer for every 11,152 Texans who qualify, while there are approximately 5.8 million Texans who qualify for legal aid. Nationally, less than 20% of the legal needs of low-income households are met with an attorney’s help. Thus, only the top 20% of American households can afford the luxury of attorney representation when legal crises strike.
Legal needs such as those that might prevent the loss of stable housing and thus homelessness, the removal of legal barriers to employment, defense against unscrupulous debt collectors or preying lenders, representation in stressful family disputes, and the list goes on and on. And these are just the civil legal needs. 80% of criminal defendants are indigent and must rely on either an underfunded, overworked public defender system (if it exists where one lives) or a “spin of the wheel, good luck where you land” court-appointed attorney system (never knowing what kind of lawyer and service you will end up with). The legal needs among the low-income most often present themselves in situations that limit the opportunity for folks to overcome obstacles to some of life’s most basic necessities — work, shelter, food, family, financial freedom — and move forward to more stable, productive, and full lives.
The most cited reasons for lack of access to the justice system are that legal services cost too much, a sense that hiring an attorney would not help, ignorance about how to access the system adequately, and a belief that the legal situation is not a problem. Yet, reports reveal that legal services for low-income populations save taxpayer dollars by reducing the needs for public services and benefits, increase financial security of individuals and families, reduce recidivism, and strengthen the justice system overall, among many other benefits. We must battle ignorance with truth. Education, for all of us, empowers.
Yet, we have huge populations of our nation and communities that cannot afford their basic necessities, let alone legal services. Take Waco, Texas, where I live and work, as an example. Waco has a poverty rate of close to 30%. 75% of jobs in Waco do not pay enough to cover the most basic and necessary living expenses for single parent families with 1 or 2 children (93% if 3 or more children). 65% of the jobs do not pay enough for a two parent, three children household. Almost 50% of two-parent, two-children households, and over 80% of single-parent, two+ children households do not make a living wage necessary to provide for basic necessities. And these incomes required to earn an annual living wage for Waco-McLennan County are anywhere from 2.2 to 2.7 times more than the amount of the federal poverty guidelines. *see the brilliant Family Budgets from the Center for Public Policy Priorities
The need is great, and with great need comes even greater opportunity. So this opportunity to meet needs and build a more prosperous community is why Mission Waco Legal Services exists. It is the reason I felt called to Waco – to serve, to advocate, to solve problems collectively and collaboratively, to seek love and justice with our community. Our program exists to provide affordable, compassionate, holistic, and community-driven legal services for low-to-lower-moderate-income and marginalized individuals and families in order to promote increased quality of life for all of us. We provide direct legal services in the areas of housing, employment, and immigration, a monthly legal advice clinic, legal education and outreach, and wraparound social services through our Holistic Advocacy Project. We understand that the legal issue is often just one issue of many in our clients’ lives, an entry point into a time of vulnerability and crisis through which we offer holistic advocacy to empower our clients and together seek love and justice.
Please make sure to designate your gift to Legal Services, if you feel so led. Your support is greatly appreciated, and it means the world to the clients you enable us to serve and love!
And we can always use your prayers and positive vibes. Together may we build solidarity with the poor and confront the established with those on the margins. For this is the way of the leader of our faith, Jesus, his way of the Cross. It is the way through death and into Life.
“When you live in the Anointed One, Jesus, a new law takes effect. The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and liberates you from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2, The Voice