February 23, 2021 | Federation Administration
One Victorian community legal centre is hitting the streets with the unusual combination of lawyers and coffee to increase access to legal advice for locals.
Peninsula CLC, which provides free legal assistance across Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs and the Mornington Peninsula, is pioneering new ways to reach their local community.
One example is the Street Law Coffee Van, a partnership with White Lion and Social Engine. This pop-up coffee van and legal service spends time at community locations ranging from emergency food relief centres and showers for people experiencing homelessness to car parks outside Woolworths and Bunnings.
Its primary goal is to talk to people wherever they are in the community, making speaking to a lawyer as easy and accessible as possible. People can get a free legal ‘health check’ and then follow up as needed with a lawyer or other local services via referrals.
Commencing during 2020, the van became a welcome sight in the community at a time when many emergency and relief services had closed face-to-face services during COVID.
"Our Street Law Van flips the usual arrangement where a lawyer sits in an office and waits for clients to come to them," said community engagement officer Kirsten Young.
"This assertive outreach approach was particularly valuable during COVID restrictions and meant we could assist people wherever they were, particularly those who were struggling to access traditional support services".
The van also provides formal training and employment opportunities to local young people wanting to become baristas.
Another example of Peninsula CLC’s work in the community is their Rooming House Outreach Program, one of the only programs that actively targets vulnerable rooming house residents for advice and support.
This program provides specialist health, housing and legal support to rooming house residents and reports legal breaches to regulators. It covers 17 local government areas in Melbourne’s south east, where there are more than 800 registered private rooming houses – with many more operating illegally. The program has played a critical role in monitoring practices in the poorly regulated private rooming house sector and advocating alongside others for reforms to improve health and safety.
A recent survey of rooming house residents by the program's staff sheds light on the little known and often shocking conditions in private rooming houses.
One resident summed up their situation as being like ‘living in hell’. “The toilet is broken...there's no hot water. Mould is everywhere, the roof is falling apart. There are bed bugs in the mattress. The windows don't close. There's blood on the walls. You can't afford to pay the rent and eat as well. Help me to get out of here.”
Peninsula CLC’s rooming house program was one of its most active outreach services during 2020, recognising that rooming house residents were at higher risk of harm throughout various levels of COVID restrictions.
CEO, Jackie Galloway believes the future of community legal services lies in their ability to meet people in the places they work and live. That means strong partnerships with health and community services plus outreach initiatives like the Street Law Coffee Van and Rooming House Outreach Program.
“Peninsula CLC is taking our expertise to the streets of the south-east and peninsula so more people can get legal help more easily. This complements our traditional appointments, legal clinics and legal education activities. Introducing more outreach has also made us more responsive to the needs of our local community."
Visit www.pclc.org.au for more information on Peninsula CLC.