Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico

by Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico
Disaster Legal Aid for Communities in Puerto Rico

June 1, 2021, marks the start of a new hurricane season. Many predict this will be an active season, a fact that's ever-present within a global climate crisis. Anxiety starts building up as uncertainty about the Government's disaster planning grows. Consequences of major hurricanes Irma and María, the impacts of the seismic events of 2020, and the pandemic are neglected and summed up. Housing insecurity is a reality for thousands living under blue tarps, insecure constructions, and dwellings that await disaster assistance. At the same time, families across the board are less likely to have the necessary funds to prepare for a disaster. For us, as legal responders aware of our ethical and political duty to accompany families while their demand their right to just recovery, it's our moment to get ready. We can only do that with your support.

In this brief report, I share with you some data to let you know how the first three months of 2021 are shaping this disaster legal aid project. I hope you can understand the needs and vulnerability and the interest of a whole population to recover equitably. I hope you decide to continue supporting us. 

As climate change continues to affect our Island through sea-level rise, flooding, more extreme atmospheric events, and droughts, disaster legal aid with a legal empowerment perspective is urgent.

This is how this projects 2021 is going.

  • Two hundred people received legal accompaniment through our helplines. These numbers include earthquakes and hurricane survivors, also people seeking assistance to receive public aid during the pandemic.
  • 145 participated in KYR workshops on rights and disasters, with a focus on housing.
  • 67% of the people who receive support from ALPR are women. 
  • Questions revolve around public assistance on employment, the need for transitory housing, public housing, and unresponded assistance requests.

During the next month, while we advocate for the Government to adopt a just recovery geared disaster plan, we will be hosting community workshops, free education for pro bono attorneys, and other opportunities to develop capacity towards this season. We will remain present at all times, thanks to your support.

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2020 has been one of the most challenging years we have experienced. Together, we faced earthquakes, a pandemic, the overdue housing needs of hurricane survivors, the threat to our children's right to education, the loss of jobs, and the loss of loved ones. 2020 limited who and when we hug. This pain, forever linked to this year, connects us and has shaped how we - as human rights lawyers - work. Through every disaster, we at Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico have found a way to show up and support the right to housing, receive adequate assistance, and access public assistance. This work has only been possible with your continuous support.

With you, we continued to socialize legal education for disaster survivors, particularly in areas of employment, housing, and public assistance. We expanded our services to provide free legal support to immigrants and had an operating legal helpline – chat and phone!- virtually available at all times for people in need. Together, in 2020 we offered legal accompaniment to 6,000 people and free and accessible legal information to 2 million people through ayudalegalpr.org. Advocacy work, directed to make the people who await housing visible for the governmental agencies, was also possible. And we won this year important fights, such as supporting disaster survivors' claims to repair and rebuild their houses even if they don't have a formal title and the communities' right to mitigate before being forcibly relocated.

While we prepare to wrap up this project – only to expand our disaster legal empowerment work – we thank you. Together, the present and the future are still possible. A just world is possible.

If you are still thinking about a great holiday gift, consider donating to Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico. Every donation is important.

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We can't believe its almost September. 2020 has passed in a haze of disasters, difficulties and adaptation. As with any other disasters, COVID-19 has impacted some groups and peoples with more violence. Those already displaced or with precarious housing conditions after the 2017 hurricanes and the 2020 earthquakes now experience more insecurity and inequality. Legal support with a legal empowerment perspective is urgent and relevant. 

We wanted to share some of the numbers that demonstrate the impact your donations have made possible. These stats refer to the period of March 15 (beginning of the lockdown in Puerto Rico) and August 15. We hope to convey an image of the need present when multiple disasters convey. Also, the power of every cent that you dedicate to Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico.

  • 2884 individuals have received direct legal support via our helplines (hotline and chat)
  • More than 1.2 Million people have obtained legal education through ayudalegalpr.org
  • We have prepared dozens of resources on topics such as immigrants, elders, health, housing and issues related to the rights of disaster survivors (check them out at ayudalegalpr.org)

Moreover, we have been able to win important advocacy asks. As you know, our legal empowerment model seeks to transform administrative processes that hinder access to assistance. While we support communities we also ask the Housing Department and disaster recovery agencies to reconsider how rules and guidelines impede assistance. After three years of non-stop work with these issues, on the last few weeks we have been able to win important things such as: an executive order that waives title requirements for people who await to reconstruct or rebuild their houses, a new CDBG-DR Action Plan that suspends displacements to provide the space for mitigation when that opportunity is available and participation strategies that include incorporating radio and television to the celebration of public hearings around recovery funds. 

It is certainly difficult. But 2020 has taught us that planning and strategizing with clear goals and a clear perspective of our mission as legal workers. We invite you to continue supporting this work and to spread the word.

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COVID-19 is a disaster, as are hurricanes and earthquakes. The impact of the pandemic in Puerto Rico has worsened a sequence of three years of disasters that – together with a negligent governmental response- has impaired the chances of making a dignified life in the Island. When we proposed this project, we were focused on providing legal support and education to safeguard families the chance to recover from earthquakes that, once again, left them without shelter. We were appalled by the precarity of those who had lost houses to hurricanes, foreclosures, evictions and now seismic sequences, many of them sleeping on the streets or on unsuitable terrains, waiting for assistance that we knew would be delayed.  Little did we know that two months later we would be facing another disaster. Similar to what has happened across the world, COVID-19 has left people without jobs and resources to guarantee food, health and housing, And as in any disaster, it is the impoverished communities and groups – tenants, elders, women- who are in worse conditions to face it. 

Before COVID-19 and thanks to your help, we had the chance to develop multiple legal education materials on earthquakes, available at www.ayudalegalpr.org and recuperacionjustapr.org. We launched a campaign to guarantee the access to assistance for families without a formal title over their affected houses. At brigades, visiting informal camps for the displaced, we provided direct assistance to 156 families. We provided training for more than 200 attorneys and students and invested nearly 504 pro bono hours helping families affected by earthquakes. Your support, among the support of other organizations, permitted us to that in less than two months.

Once again, legal support is essential to guarantee the exercise of rights and access to available public assistance, defend the right to housing and access to justice for families and communities in need. We have developed the first legal responses to hurricanes, earthquakes and now before the pandemic, offering multiple avenues of legal assistance and advocacy to low income families and communities around the Island. We intend to continue this work, using hotlines, legal support through chat, legal education using tech to reach people, and at brigades as soon as it is possible once again. 

We received notification about the opportunity to make the proposed project more flexible. This project is still urgent. We are a month away from a hurricane season, with increased housing vulnerability, without recovery at any level, without suitable shelters, with COVID-19. We want to ask for your support to expand this program to include disasters beyond earthquakes, including COVID-19 response and the next hurricane season preparedness. The focus will remain the same: disaster legal aid response. We ensure that the funds will be used wisely and commit to the maximum level of accountability. We wish you love, health and strength. Fuerza. 


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Organization Information

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico

Location: San Juan - Puerto Rico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @ayudalegalpr
Project Leader:
Ariadna Godreau
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$15,205 raised of $20,000 goal
40 donations
$4,795 to go
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