Some 3,000 people walked through our doors in the last year at Hackney Law Centre. That’s at least a 40% climb in people seeking legal advice. There are a dozen salaried staff, many part time. Wonderful volunteers defend the parapets.
We run out of stamps, our photocopiers break down, and suddenly we find it is almost impossible to print a letter. Without the ability to print letters we are a little like Silvio Berlusconi, all fur coat and no knickers.
Staplers break, pens stop working. It’s all a bit spooky. Chorouk observes that when she tries to print a letter the little twiddly gears on the photocopier start to melt. For every page she prints or copies she has to extract 9 mangled pages from the bowels of the beast, one at a time. She’s a trainee solicitor, with oak leaves. The Xerox call centre in Manilla promises a speedy response when we pay our bill. The thing is, our legal aid funding was cut by 10% last month. So already the bills are a problem.
Paula arrives without three of her five children. The kids are beautifully behaved. She’s homeless tomorrow. Hossein who is mentally ill arrives distraught and he also is homeless tomorrow.
Rita, Sue and Bob come in to talk about housing, benefit and immigration rights. The money problems have to be put to the back of the queue. It’s not nice because if your giro’s stopped you’re going to be upset and worried. However evictions and deportations top our resource-meter (to use management speak) because they are catastrophic events.
Emails are sent, writs are drafted in our heads and we generally run around like chickens doing the legal aid dance.
When the dust settles no-one is homeless tonight and no-one has been deported. Good result? I hope so. Volunteer Miranda walks in while the dust settles with the client with no name we all forgot about. She’s housed a person with a few phone calls and has no idea why we start to cheer.
Walk the line, do the right thing, fear no-one. It’s getting to be so difficult. Which is why we’re closing our doors to new clients for a month.
This appeared first on the excellent Frontline Hackney blog.
Nathaniel is (in his words) 'a third sector lawyer who writes about what makes him mad, sad, and happy to be human' at http://frontlinehackney.blogspot.com.