By: Enrique Pumar and Faith Mullen. Published by: Public Welfare Foundation DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers Catholic University of America. Published in: April 2016
The Community Listening Project offers an extensive assessment of the problems contributing to persistent poverty in the D.C. area in an effort to better understand and serve the client community. Gathering insight from 600 low-income residents through focus groups and directly administered surveys, this study makes use of quantitative and qualitative methods to evaluate barriers that prevent individuals from overcoming poverty. The sample indicates the most prevalent obstacles to attaining stable, satisfying lifestyles are related to housing, transportation, neighborhood concerns, employment, and debt. Results from this research indicate that civil legal aid can act as a powerful catalyst for improvement at individual and community levels.
Key findings include:
- Housing was the most cited concern for residents in the past two years, identified by 30% of participants w/ issues related to quality and accessibility; 36% expressed worries about safety in current living arrangements
- Nearly a third of participants identified as homeless, expressing concern about the quality and availability of shelters as well as the dangers of living on the streets; almost 75% of those who live at a regular location on the streets had been victimized
- Crime is a major issue as a third of participants identified as victims, the majority involving property offenses; meanwhile, a fourth expressed having problems with law enforcement ranging from unwarranted stops and rough treatment to feeling one’s concerns were not taken seriously
- A vast majority of participants felt strongly that much needed legal services were too costly, with many discouraged from searching due to a perceived lack of adequate, affordable help; those who did have access to a lawyer believed cost correlated positively with the quality of services
- Typically relying on public transportation, participants expressed concern about rising costs and unreliable public services, Overall, this project demonstrated the immense value of directly listening to those in greatest need of assistance.
Legal representatives may assist in combating the collateral consequences of poverty by encouraging citizens to participate in efforts as well as advocating for services heavily relied upon by the District’s poorest residents. As a result of this research, a better understanding of residents’ concerns may aid in a more effective representation of low-income clients.