comment

A broken air conditioner is met with a shrug and a mental note to head to the hardware store in many parts of the country, but in Central Florida it creates a hot mess. While many have the resources to promptly fix this Sunshine State nightmare, some of Florida's low-income residents aren't so lucky. Living in low-income housing means that appliances may not work as well, apartments may not be insulated as thoroughly against the heat and humidity, and landlords may not be as attentive to resident's needs. Children and the elderly suffer and can wind up in hospitals when landlords fail to meet their needs — and that's where Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida new medical-legal partnerships comes in to help.

CLSMF is a non-profit law firm providing free civil legal aid to low-income residents in 12 Central Florida counties, including Orange County. Originally founded in 1966, the firm strives to remove the barriers to justice that these vulnerable communities face, including obtaining food, shelter, education and health care. While criminal court cases guarantee defendants the right to an attorney, no such guarantee exists for civil cases. CLSMF helps people with everything from domestic violence issues to special education needs to challenges faced by minorities and people with disabilities, and their new medical-legal partnerships (MLP), funded by The Florida Bar Foundation, expand that reach by integrating lawyers into the medical field.

CEO Kimberly Sanchez is spearheading the initiative with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) to implement it statewide. The partnership helps physicians and lawyers work together to address healthcare-related civil legal needs. Every low-income person has 2-3 unmet civil needs creating barriers to healthy eating, safe housing, employment and personal safety, and addressing those needs improves quality of life and reduces the strain on medical care services. For example, someone who is denied food stamps may have to make trade-offs between affording food and necessary medication. CLSMF's new partnership initiative can help those residents appeal food-stamp denials, which means they can afford their medicine as well as healthy food that helps manage chronic disease. Better illness management means less doctor and emergency room visits, allowing medical professionals more time and resources to better treat their patients.

In addition to the new MLP, CLSMF helps low-income individuals on a multitude of levels that most people wouldn't think of unless it happens to them. Their non-profit status means that they frequently rely on charitable donations from lawyers, workplace giving, and recurring donations from altruistic individuals seeking to make a difference. "For anybody who cares about any social issue, we cover that," says a representative of the firm. "We can help people facing issues ranging from domestic violence, consumer fraud, fair housing, and make sure that kids with disabilities, the elderly and veterans are treated fairly." The firm also covers a more extensive area than similar civil legal aid firms, so they touch more people in need within the state of Florida.

A recent partnership with Legal Services of Greater Miami is a great example of CLSMF's extensive reach. The Community Economic Development Project (CEDP), also funded by The Florida Bar Foundation, covers counties from south Florida all the way north to Citrus County, and it enters economically-challenged areas at a grassroots level to help small business owners and other community members build a solid foundation that helps their community thrive.

From healthcare to housing to family law, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is dedicated to assisting Floridians who need it the most. Their extensive legal and geographic reach makes them a great organization to support and donate to if someone wants to make a difference. "Anything somebody might really feel passionate about, we address those issues," stresses the representative of the firm. Visit CLSMF's website at clsmf.org to see how you can help keep Central Florida's citizens healthy, safe and, of course, cool in the state's heat.