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Legal Services Plays Big Part in Preventing Homelessness

January 4, 2012

This is the ninth in a series of articles on agencies that participate in the Midland County Continuum of Care.

A disabled man who otherwise might be trying to survive on the street or seeking refuge in a shelter now lives in decent subsidized housing.

The home he had was a trailer on relatives’ property, but now he has his own place, thanks to assistance with rent; he also has medical benefits and is no longer dependent on his family.

This better outcome happened because of the work of Legal Services of Eastern Michigan (LSEM), which describes itself on its website as “a non-profit law firm that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income people…[with] special emphasis … on those issues that affect survival needs of low-income people.”

LSEM further states that its “current priority is to keep people in decent, safe, and sanitary housing.”

Legal Services Lead Attorney Amy Meilink takes information from inquirer at recent Project Housing Connect event.


Amy Meilink, lead attorney serving Midland County clients of Legal Services, underscored this priority, noting that “Seventy-five to eighty percent of our work touches on survival issues.”

“We try to keep people from becoming homeless,” she said, “and so we take on tenant-landlord issues, evictions, mortgages, foreclosures, and bankruptcy.”

One common case which Legal Services deals with is the threat of eviction from subsidized housing. If a tenant is evicted for non-payment of rent, other benefits may be denied, further complicating an already dire situation.

To head off eviction and save the rent subsidy and so not jeopardize other benefits, Emily Richards, the other LSEM attorney serving Midland County, tries to work out an agreement between the tenant and management or the management’s attorney.

Sometimes the arrangement will be for a probationary period.

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Meilink, who has worked as an attorney for Legal Services for twenty years, commented on a recent change in the clientele who seek help from the non-profit law firm. “We’re seeing people we’ve never seen before,” she said.

The downturn in the economy, high unemployment, and the bursting of the housing bubble are all factors sending people who’ve never before had to ask for help to Legal Services.

Another factor is new limits set by the State of Michigan on cash assistance, which may be some peoples’ only income and thus put them at risk of homelessness.

For legal matters not related to housing and other survival issues, LSEM asks local attorneys to take them on pro bono, that is, at no charge. This is in keeping with the American Bar Association standard that its members offer at least 50 hours of free service per year to those of limited means.

LSEM’s current service region includes 14 Mid-Michigan Counties: Arenac, Bay, Clare, Genesee, Gladwin, Gratiot, Huron, Isabella, Lapeer, Midland, Saginaw, Sanilac, St. Clair, and Tuscola. Offices are maintained in Flint, Saginaw, and Port Huron.

Until December 31, 2011, LSEM maintained an office in Midland at 148 E. Main St. Due to funding cuts the Midland office was forced to close. All Midland staff is now working out of the Saginaw office located at 320 S. Washington, Saginaw, MI, 48607. The number to call is now 1-800-322-4512.

Although the Midland office is no longer open, “We anticipate still meeting with clients in Midland through collaborative work with other agencies,” Meilink said.

Funding for LSEM comes through Legal Services Corporation, a conduit for Federal dollars, plus state and local grants, foundation support, and other contributions.

LSEM participates in Midland County Continuum of Care, a collaboration of 28 agencies working to prevent homelessness by providing housing-related services to those who are homeless or living in substandard housing.

LSEM’s website is: http://www.lsem-mi.org.

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