This article originally appeared in the November 2018 edition of Senior Scope. Article and photo by Seth Thomas.
After nearly six years of lying dormant, the New Bedford branch of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Inc., located at 21 South Sixth St., has reopened to the community.
South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Inc. is a nonprofit law firm serving Plymouth, Bristol, Barnstable, Nantucket and Dukes counties. In addition to the newly reopened location on South Sixth Street, the group has offices in Brockton, Hyannis and Fall River.
The New Bedford location closed down nearly six years ago due to budgetary constraints and because the building and parking lot required extensive renovations.
While the branch opened earlier this summer, the location officially reopened following a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 26.
“We’re lucky to have supportive partners and funders who helped make it a reality for us to reopen because now we’re here in the community, and it’s great that people have this resource,” said Erica Scott, director of development for South Coastal Counties Legal Services.
The firm provides free legal services to low-income clients and elderly individuals who are economically or socially disadvantaged. Scott said about 30 percent of their clientele are seniors, many of whom are experiencing issues related to housing. Coastline Elderly Services, Inc. partially funds operations at South Coastal Counties Legal Services.
While the firm’s on-staff attorneys are unable to take every client’s case, they can still provide guidance.
“Even if we can’t represent you, we can give you advise,” said Scott. “We try to give people advise and some information about what steps they can take.”
A crowd of attorneys as well as state and local representatives gathered at the building’s parking lot for a celebration of the reopening. Susan Mandra-Thompson, attorney and board member at South Coastal Counties Legal Services thanked the firm’s many supporters.
“This nonprofit does a world of good for those less fortunate, including housing issues, domestic violence issues, immigration issues, elder affairs. Opening this building will help those in this community,” said Mandra-Thompson. “This has been a long time coming. The board has worked hard along with the staff to get this building in order and put it back in commission.”
State Rep. Tony Cabral, who was also present to offer he congratulations, said he often receives legal questions from the community’s elderly population and refers them to organizations like South Coastal, which can help seniors navigate the system.
Andrew Bardetti, a fellow with the Borchard Center on Law and Aging who’s working on an elder abuse prevention project with the firm, said, in additional to the ability for seniors to walk into the new location, the group also does outreach at local Councils on Aging, where senior centers will host sign-up days for clients to speak with representatives from the organization.
If you feel you are in a potentially abusive situation, you can reach out to South Coastal Counties Legal Services directly.
“If a citizen has a pending legal question and is unsure what their rights are, the intake process is the best way to get in touch,” said Bardetti. “Our great intake staff will focus on what the precise issue is, and they’ll connect them with someone who’s able to serve their particular need.”
Scott said seniors should not hesitate to reach out with inquiries.
“A lot of the time when people contact us, it’s too late and it becomes an emergency situation. I would always advise people: the sooner the better,” said Scott. “If you’re in a situation, and you’re not even sure that it’s a legal situation, just give us a call. We can refer out to community partners like Coastline. So if we can’t address your issue, we can probably tell you who to speak with. We have a whole network of community partners.”
You can reach South Coastal Counties Legal Services’ intake line at 800-244-9023, Monday through Thursday between 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
The 24/7 Massachusetts Elder Abuse Hotline is 800-922-2275.