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It goes without saying that 2020 has been extraordinarily difficult, with ripple effects that will be felt for years to come.
 
In our end-of-year edition of our ‘Be heard!’ newsletter, we review the work we did before the pandemic struck through highlights from our 2019-20 Annual Report, and take a look back at how our team sprang into action in partnership with others to weather the COVID-19 storm.
WHO WE HELPED IN 2019-20
In 2019-20 we stayed true to our mission to assist people on low incomes or who have other life circumstances that act as barriers to receiving legal assistance, helping 986 people like Flynn.

I was worried because, at the time, I was homeless… You really need a stable place to live to be able to change your life.’ –  Flynn, IMCL client

We worked closely with Flynn and his social workers to help dissolve the barriers that prevented him from engaging with the legal help he needed to successfully regain contact with his children. The outcome was life-changing.
 
Read more in our Annual Report about Flynn and other people we helped access legal help during the year, including Ismail, a single father of five children. We helped him when he was facing eviction after falling behind in rental payments due to the inconsistent nature of his two casual jobs. 
FREE HOLISTIC LEGAL HELP IN 2019-20
To help people like Flynn and Ismail, we provided free holistic legal help for a range of everyday legal problems. For half of our clients, we provided help in more than one area of law. Clustering of legal problems is particularly common among women experiencing family violence and we helped Evelyn with six separate legal matters arising out of her situation, ensuring she has every chance to move on with her life with her children.

It was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me and my kids are so important to me...The lawyers really put their heart into it.’ Evelyn, IMCL client and family violence survivor
 
Read more about her story and the wraparound legal help we provided to many others here.
HOW WE PROVIDED FREE LEGAL HELP IN 2019-20
Partnerships
When our office doors and outreach services abruptly closed in March and staff were forced to work from home, we questioned whether we would still be able to provide help to our community. However, our well-established integrated partnerships remained strong and we continued to seamlessly receive client referrals from schools, hospitals, homelessness and other community support services and were able to provide legal help over the phone.
 
As the pandemic took hold, clients seen through our Health Justice Partnerships  continued to be a high proportion of our total services, underscoring the value and strength of these relationships in enabling women like Shannice to safely receive legal help. At a time of increased isolation and vulnerability during lockdown, many women were able to speak to our lawyers on the phone as part of a hospital appointment.  

Half of the women we saw at RWH in 2019-20 were experiencing family violence. This increased to three quarters after COVID-10 social restrictions were introduced. 

Read more about Shannice’s story and others we helped in 2019-20 through organisational partnerships, including Hamza, who was referred to us by a crisis accommodation worker here.
Projects
Alongside our core legal service delivery, in 2019-20 we continued to explore innovative ways of working to improve access to justice for our priority clients.
 
In February 2020 we submitted our first year report for our project with the Police and Clinician Emergency Response Team (PACER) designed to improve access to legal help for people experiencing a mental health crisis, before making the decision to pause the project due to the  restrictions imposed by COVID-19. We will recommence the project in 2021 to build upon the findings of our first year. You can read more about the project and our interim reflections here.
 
In June 2020, we completed the first year of our Youth Outreach Lawyer program to expand our connections with young people in our area, and continued to deliver the program remotely during the lockdown. You can read more about how we transitioned to an online environment here.


 
COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION
Throughout the year we maintained the delivery of community legal education sessions as a central pillar of our work, shifting to an online environment. This year we continued to educate community workers within our partner organisations to recognise legal problems in people they work with and provide avenues for referrals. We sustained our storytelling approach with young people in schools, and also expanded our online resource for international students by launching a standalone microsite at www.ishelp.org.au.  
LAW REFORM AND ADVOCACY
Informed by the experiences of our clients, over the last 18 months we have focused on advocating for change in the areas of housing, homelessness, and fines. We called for:
  • the overhaul of the infringements system to make it fairer for people experiencing disadvantage and shone a spotlight on the unfair imposition of COVID-19 fines and inadequate processes of review
  • made recommendations to address the root causes of homelessness and lessen the impacts of the justice system for those without  a stable home; and
  • provided input into and monitored the COVID-19 tenancy scheme to ensure it protected people experiencing financial hardship. 
Read more about our policy work here and here, and follow our social media accounts to stay up to date.
PUBLIC HOUSING LOCKDOWN
The most challenging period for our organisation in 2020 began without warning on 4 July when public housing estates in our area were put into hard lockdown. Necessitating an unplanned but swift and intensive initial response from us, the event also defined much of our work over the following months as we responded to persisting concerns, facilitated resident engagement with the Ombudsman’s inquiry, and assessed the long-term impacts. You can read more about our ongoing work to support residents and prepare for the findings of the Ombudsman’s Investigation in the COVID-19 edition of our newsletter here
REBUILDING WELLBEING IN 2021
Looking back, we are proud of the way that our team maintained stability throughout the unpredictable pandemic.  In saying this, we are aware of the far-reaching consequences that the global event will continue to have on members of our local community, some of whom are now experiencing disadvantage for the first time, and others who have had their existing disadvantage further entrenched. Going forward we will continue to shape our work to deal with the socio-economic fallout and the anticipated increase in legal need to help cushion the worst of COVID-19’s impacts.
THANK YOU
We are thankful to our friends, sector colleagues and partner organisations for their critical support during a difficult year and wish you all the best for 2021. You can help us provide legal help and continue our mission to build fairness and wellbeing in our local community by donating here. You may donate online, or email us at donate@imcl.org.au for a donation form or to be called back to make a phone donation.
Stay tuned for our next quarterly instalment! You can read our previous editions here
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Inner Melbourne Community Legal Centre
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North Melbourne, Victoria 3051
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