Atlanta Legal Aid Kicks off Annual Campaign as Need Spikes
The Atlanta Legal Aid Society kicked off its annual campaign Thursday at a time when the need for legal aid is spiking because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The group has received a fivefold increase in calls from people having trouble obtaining unemployment benefits, while domestic violence and eviction cases are accelerating, said Atlanta Legal Aid’s executive director, Steve Gottlieb, over a Zoom call with law firm team captains.
“After the 2008 financial crisis, it was the law firms that continued to support us, and that is certainly the case now. Our legal community support is the bedrock in Atlanta for the work we do,” Gottlieb said.
Calls to Atlanta Legal Aid for help temporarily slowed after it closed its offices in March and shifted to online intake, Gottlieb said, but now cases are exceeding pre-crisis numbers.
“I’m not sure people realize the level of stress our clients are under, in the last week, I’ve had calls from two people in a mental health crisis. I had to refer one to a suicide hotline,” said Randy Hughes, a veteran volunteer for the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline.
Atlanta Legal Aid is negotiating with hotel owners and police to pause evictions. “Our position is if someone has been staying there for 60 days, then it’s a landlord relationship,” Gottlieb said because the City of Atlanta’s hotel and motel tax expires after 60 days of occupancy.
On the benefits front, Atlanta Legal Aid has contacted its 3,500 clients with open cases to inform them of benefits available under the CARES Act.