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No. Not now. We cannot go live in a shelter now.
That’s all Mustafa could think this fall, when his landlord filed to evict him, his wife Lela and 11-month-old Amani.
Lela’s mother had died of COVID-19 in May, leaving the family grief-stricken – and without childcare. So Lela had to stop working to care for the baby. As the virus persisted, Mustafa grew increasingly worried he would bring it home from his crowded factory job, and they’d lose the baby, too. When he stopped working, they fell behind on rent and the landlord filed for eviction.
Desperate, Mustafa contacted New Hampshire Legal Assistance three days before the lockout.
We were so scared. We were so confused. We have no other family here and nowhere else to go. I don’t want my baby to die.
Mustafa and Lela are New Americans, originally from Sudan. The couple didn’t know the CDC has banned most evictions through January 1, largely to protect families like them from exposure to COVID-19 in a shelter. But NHLA Housing Justice Project Director Elliott Berry did.
Elliott filed an emergency request with the court to halt the eviction, and helped the couple complete the required “declaration form” confirming they were looking for financial assistance but could not currently pay rent. He told them how to apply for pandemic housing assistance, and he coordinated with their local welfare office to help the family find a new home they can afford.
This is just one example of the life-saving power of legal aid during this pandemic. Because people like you support legal aid every year, Elliott and his colleagues at NHLA and the Legal Advice & Referral Center have been there for these emergencies throughout the pandemic. But just like the pandemic, not all cases will be resolved so quickly:
Sara was on unpaid leave after a cesarean operation in March. By the time she was ready to go back to work, her older child’s school closed. She received some unemployment benefits but in September, she received a notice from the state rescinding those benefits and demanding repayment. She has been waiting weeks already for a hearing on her appeal. In the meantime, she’s been served an eviction notice by her landlord. LARC staff attorney Marta Hurgin is working with Sara on both cases.
Landon is an 18-year-old former foster youth. After his adoptive father died this summer, he became homeless, with no one to advocate for the in-person learning he needs to succeed in school this year. Michelle Wangerin of NHLA’s Youth Law Project has been representing him to stabilize his housing and ensure he can earn credits toward graduation despite all his hurdles.
Margie was confined in an apartment all spring with her abusive partner. His violence escalated until one day in June when she left and filed for a temporary protective order. NHLA’s Stephanie Bray represented her in a telephonic hearing where Margie obtained a permanent order of protection, child support and supervised visitation to protect their son. But Margie has not been able to find work or an affordable apartment of her own. NHLA continues to work with her on her unemployment case.
These cases, and so many more just like them, will persist into 2021. Your support today will ensure that NHLA and LARC are there tomorrow for the hearings and negotiations, the emergencies and the life-changing moments.
We’ve set an ambitious goal for 2020 – to raise $350,000 for legal aid – because we know how important access to justice is for protecting our neighbors’ basic living needs. And we know YOU know how effective legal aid is.
Every gift counts, and every gift will provide critical support to protect our most vulnerable neighbors when their basic rights to food, shelter and safety are on the line.