This year NLS is marking its 40th year of providing legal services to the low income residents of Toronto’s downtown east side. Only a few in the community now will recall that day in 1973 when the clinic opened its door in a house on Seaton Street. While the community has changed and continues to change in what is really a process of continual renewal, the basic legal needs the clinic addresses have not changed much. Fighting through the Courts and Tribunals, through law reform campaigns and through outreach and public legal education for better and more secure housing, better and more secure incomes and more secure status in Canada for immigrants and their families has been the mainstay of our work throughout the past 4 decades.
Those many community members who have volunteered as clinic board members over the years have worked hard to keep secure our funding and to ensure a close connection with the community. But there has always though been an easy consensus on what we need to be doing: Housing, income maintenance and immigration continue to be the core needs of the low income community.
When we gather in the New Year to celebrate 40 years of work in the community the theme is not going to be “another 40 years for NLS”. To be sure we are all, Board and staff and our friends in the community, as committed as ever to ensuring that legal aid services continue to be available to those in our community who need them. We are realistic too however and understand that small organizations like community legal clinics (NLS has only 7 staff) are no longer sustainable. Professional standards, administrative responsibilities (especially those to funders), electronic communication possibilities, the increased complexity we all face in our lives, and the increased cost of all that we need and do, make smaller organizations less viable. Moreover the dramatic demographic change we have seen in the GTA in the past 40 years requires that the resources available for community legal aid services be re-aligned.
Along with our colleagues in the other community legal clinics in the GTA we are engaged in an analysis of how we can change to better position ourselves in the current environment. NLS first started along the transformation road when it joined with 6 other east of Yonge clinics to discuss how they could collaborate more. In January 2013, after a report recommended that clinics be larger and redefine their catchment areas to be more in line with contemporary population patterns, the discussion was expanded to the whole GTA. By June 2013, 16 of 17 GTA clinics had agreed to participate and this summer, with funding from Legal Aid Ontario, consultants were hired to help with the process. The GTA Clinic Transformation Project is now gathering demographic data, information on community needs through interviews with key stakeholders and consolidating information on the work that clinics have been doing. The Project’s Steering Committee made up of representatives of all the participating clinics is directing the work. We are expecting a report from the consultants and the Steering Committee by early next summer. It will recommend among other things how clinics should be realigned, including how many clinics there should be. Then it will be decision time as we will all have to decide how to proceed.
Clinic staff can follow the discussion at: https://www.legalclinicresources.ca/xwiki/bin/view/GTA+Transformation+Project/WebHome
Others can join in at: www.GTAclinics.ca
Please give us your thoughts; we look forward to hearing from you.
The NLS Blog
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