June 15, 2020 | Federation Administration
Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL) is a community legal centre covering the CBD, Carlton, Docklands, Parkville, West Melbourne and North Melbourne. They provide information, advice and representation to people experiencing social and economic disadvantage who live, work, study or access community services in those areas.
Following COVID-19 restrictions, IMCL quickly moved to remote working arrangements and adapted their community outreach and legal education programs to the health environment.
Director of Strategy, Engagement & Projects, Nadia Morales, said their new approach included providing telephone consultations, remote family violence duty lawyers in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, legal education into schools via online learning, and virtual legal clinics with a range of health and housing partners.
“One of the primary ways we work is through partnerships with others in our community, including hospitals, health providers, schools, youth services, public housing programs and homelessness support services,” she said.
“We know people often don’t identify their problems as legal, but they do talk to people about the problems in their life. Our health, housing, education and other justice partnerships mean people don’t actually have to visit a lawyer to get the help they need.
“During COVID-19, we have maintained these networks and worked through them to keep referral pathways open. Workers in these partnerships can refer or even call and speak to a lawyer while they are there with the person they’re supporting. Our aim is to be available at the moment we are needed.
“Whether it is a social worker at the Royal Women’s Hospital or a homelessness worker at Flagstaff Accommodation or a wellbeing officer within a local school, we have a virtual presence whenever someone raises a legal issue in the course of their conversations about housing, health or other things.”
Ms Morales said that community need had increased in certain areas, including tenancy, and enquiries around policing the new health restrictions.
“We have also seen a jump in family violence referrals connected to COVID-19, which reflects the experiences of other legal services and the courts. Our health partnerships have proven to be incredibly valuable in enabling these referrals.”
One of the other areas that has grown is demand for information from international students living in the CBD.
“International students have been hit badly by COVID-19, with many losing their jobs and being excluded from most of the government support. They are then at risk of homelessness and other harm.”
Fortunately, students can access IMCL’s existing free online legal information resource www.ishelp.org.au.
“We quickly updated it with COVID-19 legal information and widely advertised it to reach as many students as we can across Victoria. We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of views since the pandemic, especially for information about housing, employment and personal safety,” said Ms Morales.
To respond to this critical need, IMCL also recently delivered a webinar for students with WEstjustice as part of Law Week, which can be viewed here.
Inner Melbourne Community Legal is available 9am - 5pm Monday to Friday on (03) 9328 1885. Find out more at www.imcl.org.au