Legal Aid of the District of Columbia recently announced that it will reopen its offices in Ward 8 in Southeast that were suspended in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Legal Aid office was in the Anacostia Professional Building, also known as the Big Chair, until DC Mayor Muriel Bowser instituted the public health emergency that shuttered many businesses and nonprofits in the District in March 2020. With the emergency lifted a few months ago, the organization’s leadership decided to rebuild its community contacts and reinstalling the Anacostia office became a priority.
“We’re thrilled to reopen our Big Chair location and increase access to free, in-person legal services for District residents who live or work east of the river,” said Vikram Swaruup, executive director of the organization. “Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re helping residents when they face significant legal challenges and don’t know where to turn—from foreclosure or debt collection to staying safe from domestic violence to accessing government benefits like health care or nutritional assistance. Reopening our Anacostia office allows us to meet people where they are and ensures that residents can talk to a lawyer face-to-face.”
The decision by Legal Aid to reopen its office comes as residents face legal actions, such as eviction, foreclosure, and debt collection, which were postponed by District and federal officials during the early and middle period of the public health emergency. Legal Aid officials say demand for legal services has increased by 20% since last year. The officials said evictions, where calls have increased by more than 50%, as well as foreclosure cases and food stamp matters, have received a great deal of attention.
The Big Chair Office
Swaruup is a former chief deputy attorney general in the Office of the Attorney General of the District of Columbia. He has served as the administrative leader of the organization since February.
Swaruup, 35, said during the emergency, non-physical contact means were used by the organization to reach its clients.
“During the pandemic, we used our phone lines, our hotlines with our partner organizations,” he said. “People could call the hotlines and we would work with them through online intake. We fully intend to maintain those forms of communicating with our clients.”
The office will be staffed on Mondays and Thursdays for walk-in clients from 10:00 am to 2:30 pm No appointment needed. The goal is to gradually increase the capacity and the times for clients to come to the office. Presently, the office is staffed by two or three attorneys and a legal assistant who can conduct initial interviews with potential clients and provide legal services or referrals.
During an interview with a client, whether it is a first time visit or a new matter, an attorney or intake specialist will discuss the case. Advice may be offered during the intake.
After the interview, Legal Aid officials will determine whether the client can be helped and either take the case or refer them to an organizational partner who could better serve them.
In addition to the office in Anacostia, Legal Aid accepts walk-in clients at its main location in Northwest.
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