Clinics band together to expand legal services for low-income people

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For decades, community legal clinics across Northern Ontario have been providing free legal services and empowering their communities to push for change. They have traditionally offered legal services in housing rights, income maintenance and compensating victims of crime. Now, the clinics are joining forces to expand their services in employment law, injured workers law, and elder/senior law. This collaborative project is called Advocacy North.

This week, legal clinic staff are coming together in Sault St. Marie to formally kick off the project as part of a regional training event. After years of hard work and collaboration, the dedicated group of clinic directors and board members that created the project are excited to see it take flight. Trudy McCormick, Executive Director of the Northwest Community Legal Clinic, says she hopes to see “additional legal services and community supports available in our communities throughout Northern Ontario that are beyond what each Northern clinic could provide without the Advocacy North project.” The six Advocacy North staff have been placed in community legal clinics across Northern Ontario. In fact, the new employment caseworker, Riley Miller, is being hosted by the Algoma Community Legal Clinic here in Sault St. Marie. These mobile staff have been travelling throughout Northern Ontario since November 2017 to hear from communities about the biggest challenges they face and how they could work with legal clinics.

While the Advocacy North legal team will take on some individual cases, they will also help communities to work together to confront the unique social issues facing Northern Ontario residents who are living in poverty.Two of their staff are dedicated solely to strengthening communities and helping community members challenge the status quo.

This project stemmed from a 2015 needs assessment that found low-income communities across Northern Ontario need a wider variety of legal services and more ways to have their voices heard. Rather than individual clinics vying for the limited funds available, the clinics developed the idea of sharing staff across Northern Ontario to train and support existing staff and increase their ability to work together. Collaboration is a cornerstone of the legal clinic system, “Together, we can achieve more for our clients and communities”, continued McCormick.

Monique Woolnough, project manager at Advocacy North said, “The Advocacy North staff embodies the best qualities of the community legal clinic movement. They are committed to justice for people living in poverty, and working with them to make changes to the systems that affect their lives on a day-to-day basis.”

Anyone wishing to connect with the Advocacy North staff can do so by contacting their local community legal clinic.

The Advocacy North project is funded by Legal Aid Ontario.

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