Legal assistance can support an individual tremendously. It can keep a roof over your head, protect you from someone dangerous, aid you financially and more. But what if you could not afford it?
Mid-Missouri Legal Services offers free civil legal services to low income individuals. MMLS will provide an attorney after an individual applies and is accepted by the agency. According to Executive Director Susan Lutton, they handle any case that is not criminal, and their goal is to make sure an individual has whatever income he or she possibly can to increase his or her household income.
“We handle cases for people that have a focus on basic necessities and income maintenance,” said Lutton. “These basic necessities are safety and health.”
Lutton says that MMLS is essential to low income people because anyone who walks into court without an attorney while the other side has one can count on losing. This can be exceptionally devastating in domestic violence cases, which are so common that MMLS has five attorneys specifically dedicated to handling them.
MMLS takes care of the orders of protection, but those generally only help people for a limited time period – about one or two years, according to Lutton. To permanently separate victims from their abusers, MMLS also handles family law cases.
“That’s our biggest safety focus, truthfully,” said Lutton of the domestic violence cases.
Heart of Missouri United Way specifically funds MMLS’ focus on homelessness prevention. MMLS represents families of all sizes in this safety focus and aims to help these families avoid becoming homeless. Sometimes MMLS knows families will be evicted because of how behind they are in paying rent, so the attorneys file continuances in court and make arguments for the families to buy them a couple weeks of time.
“The reason we do that is not as a delay tactic; it’s that our experience here and nationwide has been that kids who become homeless for even a short period of time are much more susceptible to rape and disease,” said Lutton. “Again, it’s a safety focus.”
MMLS also aids people in health law cases, defense of custody cases, public benefits cases and more. To see a full list of what the organization provides, check out MMLS' website here.
Heart of Missouri United Way helps Mid-Missouri Legal Services aid the community. You can help, too. Click here to join the fight.