The pandemic has caused a slew of economic challenges, which has created an imminent wave of legal troubles waiting upstream as families brace for eviction and bankruptcy. Local humanitarian organizations are preparing for the increased need as state and federal protections expire.
Gulfcoast Legal Services (GLS) has recently set its eyes on expanding their services into Sarasota County to meet the risen demand for civil legal aid at no cost. By collaborating with other local nonprofits, GLS will make legal counsel available to at least 300 individuals with housing and financial stability issues throughout the county.
“Often a few hours of free assistance from a knowledgeable attorney lifts the weight of the world off our clients’ shoulders,” says Robin Stover, Esq., a Deputy Director at GLS and Venice resident. “Our attorneys are experienced in the areas of housing, financial stability, family law, and immigration. We find answers, offer legal advocacy, and protect the rights of our most vulnerable residents so no one has to face their legal challenges alone.”
Spearheaded by Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the expansion into Sarasota County was made possible by a $340,000 grant to GLS. Part of the funds are being used to provide a $100,000 matching opportunity for other community donors to increase this work.
“The dire economic impact of the pandemic will reverberate for years to come,” says Teri A Hansen, President|CEO of Barancik Foundation. “Our Board sought an opportunity to build equitable access to legal aid and justice for our most vulnerable families. We hope the community-at-large joins us in supporting this cause.”
During the second half of 2020, GLS received five times the normal number of requests for assistance due to COVID-19. The need has continued to grow, even as vaccination rates rise statewide. Thousands of people who were negatively impacted by the pandemic are still seeking employment or have had their hours cut—forcing them to choose between paying rent or buying food and basic necessities.