Libraries as Legal Aid Connectors in Eviction Crisis
As part of the Improving Access to Civil Legal Justice initiative, OCLC’s WebJunction will deliver resources that focus on strengthening library staff’s ability to respond to eviction questions with confidence and close the justice gap in their communities.
Visit the growing collection of Eviction Resources for Libraries, now available.
In this article, learn about how a Colorado public library’s free legal clinic connected Alayna Walker with a volunteer lawyer to contest eviction and other legal citations filed against her. Register for the 18 November webinar “Understanding Evictions and How Libraries Can Help” to learn more about evictions in the United States and where libraries can make a difference.
A Crisis Moment
In her late 70s, Alayna Walker (a pseudonym to protect her privacy) did not know where to turn in the summer of 2020 when she was being unfairly forced from her mobile home in a small town in western Colorado. Although she had a contract to purchase her mobile home and the lot, the landlord decided he wanted to cash out and cancelled the purchase deal on his own, turning off her water to force Walker to move out. Living on a subsistence wage in a small town with no other jobs available due to the pandemic left Walker without alternative housing options, and she survived with no running water for several months into the onset of winter. Walker could not afford a lawyer and was unaware of her options until she signed up to speak with a volunteer attorney at a free legal clinic at her local public library. When the landlord filed an eviction action in county court against Walker, the volunteer attorney represented Walker for free and the eviction was dismissed by the court.
But the saga was not over. The landlord still didn’t turn the water on and filed a complaint that Walker had violated municipal code by living there without running water. The town filed a citation against Walker threatening fines, jail time, and even turning off Walker’s electricity for lack of compliance with the town’s running water requirement. Again, the volunteer attorney represented Walker for free and secured a complete dismissal of the citation. The public library had served as her lifeline by connecting her to a tenacious volunteer attorney who fought for justice and for Walker to live with dignity. In the end, although victorious, Walker was fed up and moved to Grand Junction, 70 miles away, where she lives today.
This library's free legal clinic was vital for Walker to access civil legal justice. Many libraries host these regularly, and they take many forms, especially with COVID-19 adaptations. Learn about similar programs here:
- Cyber legal clinics create access to employment in Wicomico, Maryland
- Colorado legal services partner with rural public libraries to improve access to legal aid
- Kansas City Public Library makes Lawyers in the Library program mobile during COVID-19 pandemic closures
Eviction: Complexity and High Stakes
Unfortunately, stories like Walker’s are common—both before the COVID-19 pandemic and now. Soaring unemployment levels and confusing moratoria have also aggravated housing insecurity. Under normal circumstances, the eviction process is so complex that it can be difficult for landlords and tenants alike to understand and navigate. Over the last two years, additional layers of complexity were added as national, state, county, and municipal government implemented, rescinded, or modified an assortment of policies related to eviction. Parties across the board, including landlords and court officials, have struggled to keep up with these changes. Library staff also struggle when patrons turn to the library for help with an eviction situation. WebJunction is pleased to be able to offer resources for library staff to be better equipped to respond to eviction questions and connect people in need to legal aid services and support, like in Alayna Walker’s story.
Find a collection of helpful Eviction Resources for Libraries (e.g. job aids, instructional videos, templates for your library) on WebJunction.