Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Loses ALL of its Homeless Prevention Legal Services Funding

by Kristen Pavón

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley‘s homeless prevention legal services have been completely eliminated — a loss of $443,228 — because of Westchester County’s 2012 budget.

Lucille Oppenheim, the vice president of LSHV’s Board of Directors spoke out on behalf of the entire board yesterday against the devastating cut and put the program’s elimination in context.

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley has been representing indigent, disabled and low-income working families and their children since 1967, when we began operations in Westchester County. At the request of state and federal funders, we expanded throughout the Hudson Valley, based on the excellence and cost-effectiveness of our work. Our legal services is one of the basic safety net services provided to those in need throughout our county. It is clearly not a “nice to have” service, but rather as essential a service as medical care and education.

We are astonished that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s recently released 2012 budget totally eliminates legal services for poor, disabled and low-income households facing eviction or foreclosure.

The representation provided by Legal Services of the Hudson Valley ensures that parents have a roof over their heads for themselves and their children. Without housing, families face homelessness, and a downward spiral of family instability, physical and mental health problems and educational deprivation for their children. The categorical slashing of county funds, eliminating the option for struggling families to get back on their feet, does not eliminate the basic need for stability. Not only do families suffer, but local taxpayers must pay for sheltering the homeless and/or provide significant rent subsidies to keep families housed. This will cost much more to us as county taxpayers than our homelessness prevention program. The elimination of eviction-prevention funds amounts to the destruction of the community safety net at its most basic. Balance this against the fact that our eviction prevention program saved the county government (and us taxpayers) more than $1.6 million last year.

The concept that categorical tax cuts is an ideal way to balance a budget overlooks not only the importance of quality of life, but more basically glosses over the deep investment needed in human capital which has always kept our country strong going back to our founding fathers.

Every dollar in the eliminated homeless prevention budget has a face on it: the single parent recently laid off, grandmothers on fixed incomes being evicted, disabled persons who no longer can work, children in a family being foreclosed, and many more examples. As a former child advocate attorney representing children, I have seen first-hand the civic importance of assuring equal access to justice for the coming generation. A zero-based budget with a zero investment in our children and their families is very short-sighted.

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