They’ll be helping a lot of people who are going to need Harvey-related legal advice.
While rescue workers, including recreational boaters, pull frightened Houstonians out of flooded homes, lawyers are preparing the establishment of a network to give advice to people with legal issues stemming from the storm that’s dumped dozens of inches of water throughout the nation’s fourth-largest city.
“The goal is to get a bank of volunteers,” said Andrew VanSingel, director of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program.
Teams of volunteer lawyers will hold clinics at shelters in Texas and throughout South Texas as soon as it is safe to do so, said Saundra Brown, manager of the Disaster Response Unit at Lone Star Legal Aid.
Lawyers will not be able to meet with clients at Lone Star’s main office in downtown Houston because the legal aid agency’s building caught on fire on Aug. 28 following an explosion. Brown said the explosion is still under investigation, but the agency has 14 offices, and others are open.
She said flood victims will want advice on dealing with insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. They will also need help dealing with other kinds of legal issues, such as tenant/landlord disputes arising when, for example, a landlord wants to evict a tenant because he needs an apartment for a relative who has been displaced by the floodwaters.
“The need is going to be huge,” said Brown, who had to flee her own house in Southwest Houston, which took on more than five feet of water.
According to information provided by VanSingel, FEMA had received 22,000 registrations as of the morning of Aug. 28 and projections anticipate the number will rise to as many as 400,000. VanSingel said there are more than 2.4 households in the disaster area, which spans 29,408 miles.
Brown said initial intake will go through a hotline operated by the State Bar of Texas, then income-qualified people will be referred to legal aid organizations, and others will be referred to other volunteer lawyer groups, such as the Houston Volunteer Lawyers in Houston. The legal aid organizations are Lone Star, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas.
The State Bar of Texas legal hotline is (800) 504-7030, and you can find more information about disaster relief legal aid here. You can apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency here. Lone Star Legal Aid has already set up at the shelter at the George R. Brown shelter, and they will have more clinics around the state. If you know someone who has legal questions or needs legal assistance due to Harvey, refer them to the hotline, (800) 504-7030. They’ll get the help they need.