Legal Aid Staff Visits Shelters to Help Victims Call it lawyers on wheels.


San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services has been sending out vans of staff members to shelters and disaster assistance centers to help low-income earthquake victims with their problems tapping into relief programs.

“It’s nice that they care enough to come and find out what’s going on,” said David Shawn Perry, 21, an unemployed store clerk who described his problems to a paralegal from the Pacoima-based legal services organization at the Mason Recreation Center shelter in Chatsworth.

Perry, who has been living at the Mason shelter since Jan. 20, told paralegal Craig Minami that he has had a difficult time getting back the security deposit on the Canoga Park house he rented, which was knocked off its foundations by the Jan. 17 earthquake. Perry also told of a delay in getting an inspector from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to confirm damage to the house, and the delay has held up receipt of a grant to replace lost personal property.


Minami made an appointment with Perry to meet with a legal services lawyer at the shelter the next day about going to Small Claims Court to get back his deposit. The paralegal assistant promised to report Perry’s FEMA woes to the legal services office, which has been collecting information about such problems and raising concerns with the agencies.

Nearby, lawyer Roberta Stovitz spoke in Spanish to a group of shelter residents.

“The first barrier is trying to understand an extremely complicated system and program,” said Neal Dudovitz, executive director of San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services. “And there’s no doubt that language barriers are a problem.”

In the days after the quake, the legal services organization prodded FEMA and state welfare agencies to put in place relief programs that were sensitive to the disadvantaged.

Workers at the legal services organization complained to the state Department of Public Social Services about senior citizens and disabled people having to wait in line up to six hours to receive emergency food stamps, Dudovitz said. Partly as a result of the complaints, Dudovitz said program managers later allowed senior citizens and the disabled to bypass the main line.