Fighting Social Injustice:
New Programs From Legal Aid
September 2016 
At The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, we're continually looking for ways to expand our outreach, to bring our mission of fighting social injustice to more of our community. This summer, we're pleased to share the stories of two new initiatives.
Maria Mata and Mari Chatterjee
Maria Vazquez Mata and
Mari Chatterjee
The Farmworkers Project

The life of a farmworker is almost unimaginably hard: grueling days of often poorly-paid toil under the hot sun. Nearly as unimaginable for most of us here in Silicon Valley is the fact that, right at our doorstep, the farmworker of today is still living in much the same condition as that of his ancestor from days gone by: tenant farming on a ranch, with limited legal protections, and obstacles limiting access to many of the basic needs of life--none more important than access to health care.
A new project from the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County is assessing recent efforts to address that lack of access: a hands-on health needs assessment survey of the barriers to healthcare that farmworkers are facing in the area of Pescadero.

Legal Aid attorney Maria Vazquez Mata and Project Coordinator Mari Chatterjee relate their experiences initiating the program. 
"My dad was a farmworker," Maria says, "so for me, seeing what these people are experiencing brings to life the stories he used to tell me. It has been a very humbling experience. Farmworkers face many difficulties in their everyday lives, and many of these difficulties are things that we often take for granted in our lives. For example, just by the very nature of their work, they are in the hot sun, for extended hours of the day. Many are also here alone. The families often cannot live in the farmworkers' small living spaces, and in a lot of instances, the families face other more challenging situations that keep them apart."

For all the difficulties that the farmworkers have to endure, Maria tells us that the experience has been a positive one: "When I first came to interview the farmworkers, I thought it would be difficult for the community to engage with outsiders. But we haven't found that at all, and the fact that I shared some of their background might have made them more comfortable to not only speak with us, but also participate in our survey and share their concerns."
"They got to know us, and greeted us at the local taqueria, and the farmers' market," Mari recalls. "Pretty soon, they were inviting us into their homes to conduct our surveys."

Through the surveys, 
"we have also found that transportation is a huge issue," Maria adds. "It's easy to forget that 'access' to health care means more than just being legally entitled to it: you can't use medical services that you can't get to. Even for emergencies, they need to find some way to get all the way down to San Mateo General Hospital, and if they can't afford a cab..."
The team has also learned that fear is an additional barrier: "They fear losing wages or their job, if they have to take time off for medical treatment," says Maria. 

Working with partners like Puente de la Costa Sur and Coastside Hope, the Legal Aid team hopes to be able to supplement their initial efforts.

"This project is a great beginning," Maria says. "But we hope that it really is only the beginning. To provide direct legal services is our goal."

But building a relationship with the community, and the health needs assessment, are an important start. 
This project is supported by an agreement with the San Mateo County Health Care for the Homeless/Farmworker Health (HCH/FH) Program of the San Mateo Medical Center (SMMC), utilizing funding received by the HCH/FH Program from the federal Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) under their Health Center Program authorized under Section 330 of the Public Health Act.

Leticia Toledo with client
Free Veterans Legal Clinics

No group in our community has given more, or deserves to receive more back, than our military veterans. This month, Legal Aid kicked off a new outreach to them by hosting its initial free Veterans Legal Clinic, at the Redwood City Public Library.

Veterans in attendance had an opportunity to hear an informative presentation covering the area of wills and estate planning from Legal Aid Board Member Leticia Toledo. Following the presentation, the veterans had the chance for free one-on-one consultation with an attorney, helping them to prepare their own individual Advance Health Care Directive.

"Legal Aid is pleased to be able to offer this service to our veterans," says Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon. "This is a population whose vulnerabilities can allow them to slip through the cracks of our social systems, and it's important that they know they have legal resources available."

Raising awareness with outreach of this kind is vital: according to the National Veterans Foundation, "many thousands of veterans either don't understand what kind of assistance there is for them or, for one reason or another, do not seek out such assistance."

The next clinic will focus on issues of credit, and of debt and debt collection. It will be held on Monday, October 24th, from 4:00-6:30 pm, at the Pacifica Community Center, 540 Crespi Drive. Veterans and their families may drop in, or contact Legal Aid for information and appointments: (650)517-8911 or email:
Attorney Noell Kubota with client

Future clinics will cover a variety of topics, including family law.

Legal Aid's free Veterans Legal Clinics are the product of a partnership with the Veteran Lawyers of San Mateo County and funded in part by San Mateo County's Measure A, a half-cent countywide sales tax approved by voters in November 2012 to ensure San Mateo County's quality of life by supporting essential County services.

Save the Date:
Legal Aid's 20th Annual "And Justice For All"
Awards Luncheon will be held on Friday, April 21st
at the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto
More details coming soon!

Click here to support
The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County