live Winner / 2021
Working to Provide Dignity, Basic Needs, and Care for All Through the Law
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights to undo the impact of California’s massive income and wealth inequality, the unsustainable and racist housing market, lack of access to health care, and unfair systems of justice. Our team works tirelessly to make sure Los Angeles residents experiencing poverty are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after.
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
- County of Los Angeles
What is the problem that you are seeking to address?
Although California has one of the strongest economies in the world, it stands in stark contrast with the conditions of millions of residents who struggle to pay for food, shelter, and other necessities. Poverty is fueled by inequity and racial inequality, which is more consequential during the COVID health and financial crises. Decisions made by our courts and public officials now will have long-term impacts on the social safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles residents—for better or for worse. Western Center focuses on the more than six million Californians with low or no income—nearly two million in Los Angeles County alone—living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. That is a number that, unfortunately, is growing due to the unprecedented health and financial impacts of the pandemic. These vulnerable individuals and families are disproportionally people of color, struggling to meet their basic needs, and at risk of falling into homelessness.
Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.
Western Center works to make sure people experiencing poverty are protected in California law and our approach includes the following: FIGHTING IN COURT We partner with local legal aid programs and pro bono co-counsel in class action and other high-impact cases to protect basic rights for all Angelenos with low incomes. Our 2021 docket addresses issues of eviction defense as we move into recovery from the pandemic, discrimination against tenants, barriers to getting and keeping General Relief for people with mental disabilities, and medically fragile children being denied the Medi-Cal skilled nursing care they are entitled to. ADVOCATING FOR ANTI-POVERTY LEGISLATION We fight for legislation related to health care, hunger, affordable housing, economic empowerment, and public benefits. We also oppose harmful legislation and educate lawmakers and other stakeholders on behalf of those living in poverty, and help establish new laws, improve existing laws, and challenge the development of laws that diminish resources and opportunities for vulnerable Los Angeles residents. EMPOWERING LEGAL AID ATTORNEYS Defending the rights of every Los Angeles resident living in poverty within courts, public programs, and government agencies is complex and technical. A coordinated effort at the community level must include equipping frontline staff members at direct legal service organizations with the information, skills, and training they need to improve the lives of their clients.
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
- Direct impact
- Indirect impact
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
Western Center envisions a Los Angeles County in 2050 where: All of our neighbors have access to healthy, sustainable, and affordable housing in neighborhoods of their choosing, with strong, clear, and enforceable anti-displacement and anti-discrimination protections. The housing emergency in Southern California, and its disproportionate effects on the most vulnerable Angelenos, comes to an end. Everyone believes access to health care is a human right that translates into full, inalienable coverage. Government agencies provide equitable access to health care for all Californians, regardless of status and no one would ever be removed from coverage. Californians who need it most have enough income to afford basic necessities and save for long-term financial security. Safety net programs will be fully funded so no family falls into poverty or goes hungry, and individuals are no longer further entrenched in poverty because of unjust public fees, fines, or consumer debt.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
By leveraging our existing model that focuses on litigation, legislation, and support for legal aid partners, we successfully fight for broad legal victories that impact the nearly two million Los Angeles residents living in poverty. We measure our success by tracking the following outcomes: § The number of impact cases we win and how many individuals may benefit, § The amount of anti-poverty legislation we lead in enacting and how many individuals may benefit, and § The number of legal aid attorneys whose legal knowledge and skills are increased through our technical assistance and training program. For example, in 2020 we helped pass eviction moratorium legislation to protect an estimated one to three million tenants in California who are behind in their rent due to COVID. We also won the case Jane H. v. Kent and we estimate that thousands of Medi-Cal recipients will be able to keep their doctors, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care saved.
Which of the live metrics will you impact?
- Food insecurity
- Housing affordability
- Healthcare access