We’re going to need a bigger boat. Health, well-being, and dignity don’t exist in a vacuum. We are shaped by structural drivers including law and public policy. Yet people’s legal questions and goals outstrip the resources available to meet them. Communities of care have an important role to play as myth-busters and partners in scope-of-practice-aligned problem-solving.
Access to Housing During COVID-19
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a care team member contacted MLPB because a family living in a homeless shelter had been blocked from re-entry after the parent took their infant child to the ER with flu-like symptoms. There was no back-up plan for this family, and while the baby did not have COVID-19, they could not prove that instantly.
MLPB reached out to valued colleagues in the public interest law community, who surfaced this incident with key state administrators. Together, MLPB and our colleagues forecasted that this event was the tip of the iceberg in terms of what families experiencing homelessness might confront if the emergency shelter system did not adapt quickly. And meanwhile, the individual health and public health consequences of experiencing homelessness during the pandemic have been sobering and well-documented.
The shelter quickly welcomed the family back to their room, where the parent and infant quarantined together until all the infant’s symptoms subsided. At a population level, the state revised its procedures across all shelters statewide, strengthening shelter access and safety for all families experiencing homelessness during an unprecedented crisis.
Reasonable Accommodations & CORI Mitigations
A social worker contacted MLPB about an individual who was considering opting for homelessness over accepting a subsidized unit. The unit was single room occupancy, meaning that they would have to share kitchen and bath facilities with other residents. The patient had significant mobility limitations and PTSD that made such shared spaces unrealistic.
MLPB educated the social worker on key elements of a successful reasonable accommodation letter in this type of context. MLPB also encouraged the care team to partner with the patient to mitigate their CORI, as the underlying criminal offense it was tied to substance use from which she had long track record of recovery. Finally, MLPB alerted the care team to proactive CORI sealing strategies, such as the Greater Boston Legal Services CORI Clinic, to which other people can be referred going forward.
A hospital-based social worker contacted MLPB about how best to help the parent of two young patients. The parent had been in the U.S. for a decade and had an expired green card. While this individual was eligible to naturalize – and therefore gain U.S. citizenship – due to a developmental disability they were functionally illiterate making it virtually impossible for her to succeed on the written portion of the citizenship exam.
MLPB oriented the social worker to the eligibility framework for an exemption to the written exam, including the medical assessments necessary to verify eligibility. MLPB also supported the clinician when they had questions about the related paperwork. With support from an interdisciplinary team, ultimately Mom was sworn in as a U.S. citizen!
Education & Transportation
A primary care provider consulted with MLPB on behalf of her patient, a child in foster care who had been placed in a group home more than thirty miles from their home school district. The two school districts were battling over financial responsibility for transportation services. Meanwhile, the student could not access schooling and was missing opportunities to engage with his community. This engagement was not only important to the child’s emotional wellbeing, but also was a critical part of their therapeutic plan.
After outlining legal rights that might apply in this situation, MLPB educated the provider on best practices in crafting any letter to the school district. Thanks to this clinician’s thoughtful efforts, transportation was quickly restored, and the student was able to return to school!
A resource specialist contacted MLPB about an older person whose furnace was broken, leading to health-threatening cold temperatures. When the landlord’s initial repair effort failed and no additional service was secured, the patient was left with a space heater – and an electric bill they could not afford.
Initially, the care team assisted with transportation costs to help relocate the patient to a relative’s home. MLPB then coached the care team on tenants’ legal rights in situations like these, such as requesting a sanitary code inspection through the local Board of Health. After the care team filing the request, the Board of Health intervened and the individual returned to a warm home.