Legal Services of Greater Miami
Featured Business: Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI)
Executive Monica Vigues-Pitan, Executive Director
Business Address: 4343 West Flagler Street, Suite 100, Miami, Florida 33134
Tell us about your business.
Legal Services of Greater Miami is the largest provider of civil legal services for low-income communities in Miami Dade and Monroe County. Each year, our 30 attorneys provide free legal assistance, benefitting the most disenfranchised members of our community. They typically have nowhere else to turn for help in resolving their legal problems. Our mission is to achieve Equal Justice and eradicate barriers to economic and social stability created by poverty and injustice. Our advocacy often ensures access to life’s basic essentials such as food, housing, healthcare, education, and income.
What year did you open?
Legal Services of Greater Miami opened its doors on June 1, 1966. The concept for our program was born out of the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights movement. At the time, the idea that attorneys would challenge the institutions, practices, and laws that created systemic injustices for the poor was a novel experiment. Today, we are a cornerstone of our community and recognized as a leader in addressing systemic injustices created by poverty.
Key people in your business? Tell us their story.
The key people in our business are our attorneys. We have 30 attorneys advocating for our client community in a variety of areas, including housing, education, healthcare, consumer, unemployment compensation, food stamps (SNAP), Social Security, education, and other areas. Additionally, we have specialized population projects that identify the unique needs of certain individuals such as veterans, those experiencing homelessness, Older Americans, and individuals with disabilities. Additionally, in order to promote economic prosperity, in recent years we have started providing legal solutions for eligible small businesses and nonprofits serving our client community. There is often a misconception that our clients’ legal issues are not complex since they do not have a lot of resources. On the contrary, they are often dealing with legal problems in the context of complex bureaucracies and need assistance to successfully negotiate them. Our attorneys are community leaders, are incredibly dedicated, and, on average, have more than 10 years of experience in their field. The impact of their advocacy improves not only the lives of our individual clients but the community as a whole.
Tell us why you do, what you do, for a living.
Miami is my hometown. I was born and raised here. The importance of the value of service was instilled in me from an early age to ensure that others had the same opportunities that my parents had upon arriving in this community. I also witnessed firsthand how my parents were able to prosper when given access to education, affordable housing, and job opportunities. Over the years Miami has grown in stages and, at times, in flashes. With every change and step forward, I see glimpses of how great this city is and all it has to offer. However, I also see the great strides it needs to ensure that all of its residents flourish along with it. In both of my roles at Legal Services, first as an attorney and now as Executive Director, I have had the privilege of working to ensure others have access to the same opportunities that my family had.
How do you help your community?
Our advocacy ensures access to economic and social justice – which often means access to stable housing, vital government benefits, and access to greater economic opportunity.
2019 Facts & Figures:
• 20,162 people assisted
• 4,851 cases handled
• $8.9M funds recovered/avoided and value of housing preserved
• 897 Housing Units preserved/created
Special community/philanthropic involvement, campaigns, contributions or events?
Our mission and advocacy require resources to meet the needs of our client community. Every year Legal Services raises funds via annual giving, pledges, and our annual Heart of Giving fundraiser. The annual event is an incredible opportunity to celebrate our successes and supporters. Due to the pandemic, the event has been postponed, but we hope to come together again soon.
Special assistance to individuals, customers, or the community-at-large in connection to the COVID-19 crisis?
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for our services has increased because our most vulnerable neighbors–the elderly, homeless and disabled— are now joined by the staggering number of newly unemployed. We have expanded our areas of representation to ensure that we are able to assist our clients to access all the relief to which they may be entitled under the CARES Act, such as the stimulus payment and other programs.
Legal Services remains a trusted source for legal advice at a time when policies are rapidly changing and people are concerned about how they will be able to pay rent, apply for reemployment assistance, or navigate the small business loan application process. The Legal Services team has been actively reaching out to the community, reinforcing the message that we remain open, and ensuring that the community is aware of their rights and available resources, including:
• Extensive community outreach to social service agencies with virtual presentations related to housing and the current moratorium on evictions
• Engagement with local television, radio, and print media, including Spanish media (CNN en Español, Diario Las Americas, and Univision)
• Virtual presentations to local elected officials and their staff to inform them of our expanded services during this time
• Guest speakers on Congresswoman Shalala’s Tele-Town Hall Meeting, as well as on Our Community Cares broadcasts to address tenant protections, housing protections in the new federal stimulus package, reemployment assistance and applying for public benefits
• Creation of a COVID-19 web page, www.legalservicesmiami.org/covid-19, to share information and resources.
What advice would you have for others in the non-profit sector trying to make it day after day?
It is a difficult time for our community. For those in public service trying to make a positive impact, we may at times feel that actions are insignificant compared to the problem. However, we should remember that although we may not be able to help everyone, we can make a difference in the lives of individuals that can have a lasting impact on their life.
LinkedIn: Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc.