'Maxed out': Dalhousie Legal Aid suspends drop-in services until June
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service is suspending drop-in services during May while it deals with a backlog of cases.
That means low-income and vulnerable people looking for legal help to deal with tenancy issues in Halifax will need to look elsewhere for now.
"Like all of the services that are supporting people dealing with the outcomes of the current housing crisis, we're really maxed out," said Joanne Hussey, a community legal worker at Dalhousie Legal Aid.
In the past, Dal Legal Aid's client load has been an even split of people with questions about income assistance and people needing help with tenancy issues.
But Hussey said residential tenancy issues in the past year have made up "almost 100 per cent" of their work, though issues of income and housing are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
"We're seeing people who know that if they are forced out of the housing that they currently have that they're not going to be able to find alternate housing," she said. "So they really are using every option they have to try and figure out how to be able to stay."
Hussey said government needs to do more to address the root causes of income and housing insecurity and also recognize the value of the service that community and outreach organizations bring to the table.
"There are a lot of people who are working very hard to ensure that a bad situation doesn't get a lot worse," she said.
Scaling back services is not a decision Hussey takes lightly.
The only other time Dalhousie Legal Aid has closed to drop-ins was during pandemic lockdown. At the time, the organization continued to take in new clients over the phone from anywhere in Nova Scotia.
But it had to shift to only taking clients within the Halifax Regional Municipality last year to help manage an ever-growing workload.
"That situation has really further intensified over the last year," said Hussey, one of just two community legal workers at Dalhousie Legal Aid.
"So when you think about the magnitude of the housing problem in Halifax at the moment, and that being divided between just two people, it is quite a lot to manage."
People still encouraged to call or email
Dalhousie Legal Aid is also a teaching clinic. With a new group of students starting this month, the added training responsibilities on top of the volume of existing cases is another factor in the decision to suspend services.
But Hussey still encourages anyone looking for help to call or email the organization.
They are still taking some new clients on an emergency basis, like priority referrals from shelters and other organizations.
There's also a tenant rights guide available on the organization's website, and people can call Access Nova Scotia with questions about the process for residential tenancy hearings. Nova Scotia Legal Aid can also help tenants across the province with legal matters related to housing.
Dalhousie Legal Aid is hoping to resume drop-in services in June.
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