The Justice & Diversity Center is a proud member of the Bay Area Resilience Collaborative (BARC) which was formed to give legal assistance in the aftermath of disasters. A group of nonprofits formed BARC in 2015 and worked out a plan to provide legal services together in the Bay Area. The group expected that after a natural disaster, legal aid providers would face a great need for urgent help. The goal was to pave the way to provide coordinated services, as well as quickly direct volunteers who wanted to help.
The October wildfires in Northern California called BARC to action for the first time. BARC acted swiftly within the first week and held daily calls to coordinate assistance for people affected by the fires. Among other things, we launched a hotline to help people with issues such as FEMA claims, public benefits, insurance claims, landlord-tenant questions for rental homes, property damage or loss, and employment.
JDC contributed to the quick efforts to train volunteer attorneys on these topics before they staffed the hotline. Cary Gold, our Landlord-Tenant Supervising Attorney, recorded a training session on key issues for tenants whose homes were damaged or destroyed.
JDC also took on supervision of the hotline which was hosted at the San Francisco-Marin Lawyer Referral & Information Service. During the first two weeks, volunteer attorneys staffed the hotline from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. Senior JDC attorneys were always on hand to explain protocol and step in on difficult calls. Then as volunteers staffed the hotline from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., they often consulted with JDC attorneys on how best to address callers’ concerns. Working closely with volunteers, we saw first-hand how willingly they stepped up and gave their time to training then taking calls. Some had personal ties to Sonoma, Napa or the North Bay Area. Some had done pro bono work before while some had not. All were patient and understanding with the understandably upset and anxious people seeking help.
It was also very heartening to experience how quickly BARC member organizations and their lead contacts came together to serve our neighbors. JDC is glad to be a part of this collaborative and contribute what help we could for people impacted by the fires.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Justice and Diversity Center (JDC)