July 20

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Bedbugs ≠ Evidence

Reading the fascinating blogs of my fellow PULSE volunteers reporting from Kenya, Vietnam, India, Uganda, Tibet, Nepal, etc., it has been amazing to learn about all the novel and eye-opening experiences that they have encountered.  Having traveled to such far-away locales, they were no doubt expecting to be awestruck by many new sights and activities.  Because my PULSE assignment landed me smack dab in a building directly across the street from where I had spent 28 years working for GSK in good old Philadelphia, PA, I wasn’t quite expecting to be blown away by any new, eye-opening experiences.  Little did I know what was in store for me! During my first month working at the Legal Clinic for the Disabled (“LCD”), which is based just across the street from GSK’s former US headquarters in Philadelphia, my eyes have been opened wide to sights and situations that I had never previously witnessed in my hometown.

The LCD provides free legal representation for low-income individuals with physical disabilities and for the deaf/hard of hearing. To help accomplish their mission, the LCD staff has set up Medical-Legal Partnerships (“MLPs”) at health care facilities in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. At these MLPs, the LCD attorneys train physicians, nurses, and social workers to be alert for legal issues which could have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of patients.   For example, a doctor at the MLP based at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children may learn that a child being treated for severe asthma and his impoverished single mother are about to be evicted from their apartment along with her three other children. Upon learning about this from the doctor, the LCD attorney will interview the child’s mother and may learn that she has stopped paying rent because of the decrepit condition of her apartment building that is not only infested with insects due to rotting wooden floors on account of water leaks, but also is full of mold which can trigger asthma. In many circumstances like this, a low-income tenant who is sued for back-rent and possession by a landlord’s attorney will have no legal representation and end up being evicted with nowhere to go. However, thanks to the free legal representation provided by LCD attorneys, such tenants will be able to present a vigorous defense and likely achieve a much more favorable outcome – for instance, an agreement requiring the landlord to provide a habitable apartment and allowing the family to remain in possession.

What was eye-opening for me was how frequently situations like the example above happen in Philadelphia. I recently attended a hearing in Landlord/Tenant Court for one of LCD’s clients and was absolutely amazed at the number of poor, unrepresented tenants facing eviction by landlords represented by lawyers who handle multiple eviction lawsuits every day. Each morning and each afternoon, Monday through Friday, the landlords’ lawyers come to court with stacks of cases that are adjudicated in an assembly-line manner. Some of the tenants bring pictures or other evidence (sometimes forbidden — see bedbug notice below) of the deplorable conditions in which they live. However, without an attorney to represent them, most of these tenants have little chance of avoiding eviction. That’s why the LCD attorneys play such an important role in helping justice to prevail for these people in need.

Landlord/Tenant Court is just one of many legal areas where LCD lawyers are making a huge difference in improving the lives of their low-income, disabled clients. It has truly been an amazing revelation to witness the incredible work that the LCD performs for so many of Philadelphia’s disabled and poor population.

Bedbugs