Public Statement Regarding Devastation Caused by Hurricane Harvey

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Release Date: 
Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Statement from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Regarding the Devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey


Our hearts and thoughts are with those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Disasters of this scale harm not just homes, lives, and infrastructure, but also our sense of resolve. The storm’s scope is unprecedented. Victims are expected to file between 200,000 and 400,000 claims with FEMA (for context, Superstorm Sandy victims filed just over 140,000 claims total). In the wake of such devastation, we are steadfast in our commitment to come together with our members and friends and support those working to ensure a swift and equitable recovery for the people and communities impacted by this catastrophe. 

Experiences over time have shown the disparate and extended impact storms like Harvey have on low-income and underserved communities. All of us engaged in providing and supporting civil legal aid and public defense know that the work being done every day to ensure access to safety, shelter, food, and justice is critical in times like these, as needs intensify. Basic needs become even more difficult to access, and the passage of time exacerbates the gap in services.

For individuals involved in the criminal justice system, disasters like Harvey may result in people who are accused of crimes and presumed innocent to languish in jails for days and even months without having access to counsel. We learned important lessons from Hurricane Katrina about the importance of access to counsel, and we must ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated in Texas and other impacted areas.

As it has when confronted with natural disasters in the past, the equal justice community must come together in support of both our colleagues on the ground, and clients and communities in need.

As legal aid and public defender programs work to recover and to meet the tremendous need for services, we also must support our peers and friends working amidst the devastation. Among the nearly 2.5 million households in the affected area are those of our peers and friends, some of whose homes have been severely damaged, and whose own safety has been at risk. Many of you may have heard Lone Star Legal Aid’s Houston office was destroyed and the Harris County courthouse flooded. We are still learning the true extent of the damage to programs across Texas, and in Louisiana as the storm’s path continues.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, our community came together to ensure legal services were available to those in need as quickly and as equitably as possible. At each turn, hundreds of attorneys volunteered to support disaster victims with legal disputes and paperwork, and others donated to ensure funding for critically-needed legal services. In collaboration with Pro Bono Net, the American Bar Association and the Legal Services Corporation, we created an online resource center for the legal community to draw upon when disaster strikes, so that we could move forward with lessons learned and established procedures to better respond in future emergencies, as well as ensure that longer-term and enduring needs continue to be addressed.


How You Can Help:

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation has set up a fund to support legal services in Texas in the wake of the storm.

Lawyers admitted to practice in Texas can look herehere and here for information about volunteering. Out of state attorneys should reach out to Scott Lachman with the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. Legal hotlines are already set up in Texas (800 504-7030) and Louisiana (800 310-7029) to provide legal advice. The ABA Free Legal Answers network is also working to provide access points for lawyers who want to help across the country.

We continue to learn more about how to support the personal and organizational needs of our colleagues, as well as emerging needs in Louisiana. As we are able, we will provide updated information on additional avenues of support.  We know that as public attention shifts, hard work will remain in the months and years to come; advocates in Louisiana are still litigating claims filed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Our compassion and support are needed now more than ever.