Legal Aid assists family in aftermath of opioid epidemic, builds up economy

Legal Aid assists family in aftermath of opioid epidemic, builds up economy

By: mesh | October 4, 2019 | News

CLARKSBURG — Low-income individuals would never be able to afford a private attorney to navigate a circuitous court system, barring their access to it.

Citizens not having access to the justice system due to lack of financial resources is a detriment to society, according to Angela White, supervising attorney of the Clarksburg Legal Aid office.

“There are people who don’t know what their rights are or who maybe don’t know how to protect themselves against people that are abusing them,” she said.

Legal Aid is a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and victims of domestic violence. Some of the hardest things she sees are landlord-tenant disputes where an apartment is uninhabitable, but a landlord has done nothing to remedy the situation.

United Way provides the funding for Legal Aid to work with victims of domestic violence.

“I just think that people would be stuck in abusive relationships. They would be homeless. Their basic needs would not be met if it weren’t for Legal Aid,” White stated.

Tina Yoke, United Way executive director, said many people in the community don’t realize there is a domestic violence problem here, and oftentimes it could be a life-or-death situation.

“They provide a vital service to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through their legal program. And if that resource weren’t available, it may increase the likelihood that victims would stay in dangerous situations or abusive relationships,” Yoke said.

Legal services also include family law and public benefits, as well as divorces, adoptions and guardianship.

Legal services for custody, guardianship and adoptions have become paramount in light of the opioid epidemic. Because of that, Courtney Crowder is offering kinship caregivers — or a family member caring for a child of a relative — as part of a fellowship.

“Our goal is just to create permanency for these children that don’t have that in their lives,” White said of the project.

In Harrison County, Crowder said she primarily sees grandparents raising grandchildren.

She started the project in October and will continue for a year, also working some on abuse and neglect cases.

“Grandparents aren’t really aware of the kinds of benefits that can come from establishing formal legal custody in court,” Crowder said.

Medical treatment and school enrollment are two barriers that come with not having legal custody of a child. As well, grandparents can receive benefits through the Department of Health and Human Resources.

“That can be really helpful for grandparents, especially those who are living on a fixed income and probably didn’t plan on raising three extra kids,” she said.

Crowder said she would love to stay at Legal Aid after her fellowship ends. White added that this work is needed and that with additional funding, they would absolutely continue to tackle the issue.

The need for legal services is higher than what Legal Aid can provide, White indicated.

“We try to offer everyone as much services as we can, but there just simply is not enough of us to meet the need. … The more attorneys we have, the more representation that we can provide and the more people that get helped,” White said.

Aside from dealing with the immediate needs created by the drug epidemic, Legal Aid is also working to create jobs and establish economic prosperity.

Phillip Pham is an attorney for the Community Economic Development Legal Project with Legal Aid. The project began last year, but officially launched this past summer.

“The goal is to pretty much help any communities in the state, especially distressed communities who were affected by either the economy or the flood,” he said.

The project aims to impact community, economy and society by helping people who want to start or expand a business, people who have legal barriers to getting a job, and nonprofit organizations. Pham said Legal Aid is attempting to create more jobs and give more opportunity for people to get those jobs.

This would lead to breaking the cycle of poverty, indicated White.

Yoke stated concern for the community if the United Way campaign goal can’t be reached.

“All of the problems that our 25 member agencies work day-to-day in the front lines to fight will still exist. There will just be fewer people to fight the fight,” she said.

Other priorities of Legal Aid are helping people with disabilities, be they physical or mental.

“The work is rewarding. It’s very difficult. … It’s really tough work, and it can be emotionally draining. But the one person that really appreciates you, the one person whose home you saved or whose family you kept together, that makes it all worth it,” White added.

Legal Aid is one of 25 local agencies supported by United Way of Harrison County. The annual United Way campaign kicks off in mid-September and runs until the end of February.

For more information or to make a donation, call 304-624-6337, send a donation to P.O. Box 2452, Clarksburg, W.Va. 26301, visit the United Way’s Facebook page or visit and click on the “donate” button. Donations can be made to the general fund or to a specific agency supported by the United Way.