EVANSVILLE, Il. — On the second floor of this courthouse, what at first glance looks like an ATM is actually a legal lifeline. It is a legal aid kiosk, which helps users facing eviction to get the legal help they need.
“It's going to either be in the courthouse or in their local library, and that's where low-income people seek help,” said Scott Wylie, an attorney with Pro Bono Indiana. “It's touch screen; it's intuitive. They can look up all of the resources that are available and provide legal assistance in their eviction action and other related housing stability issues. They can directly connect to a legal navigator who is trained to be able to provide them guidance.”
When evictions began rising in the state last year, pro bono legal services found many tenants in need of legal help.
“We found that over 50% of eviction clients, who were arriving to be removed from their apartment, had never heard of civil legal aid assistance or rental assistance. Over 50%,” Wylie said.
According to data collected by The Eviction Lab, as of early November, the number of evictions in cities across the country is on the rise. When compared to their average numbers from previous years, in Las Vegas, it rose 60%; in Cleveland, it was up 61%; in Milwaukee, it climbed to 68% and in Tampa, it skyrocketed 121%.
“We have a large problem across the United States, and solutions like these help chip away at those inequities that poor people are confronted with,” Wylie said.
Several states are now making use of legal kiosks, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.
In Indiana, $1 million in federal COVID relief funds paid for 120 kiosks to get deployed across the state, which connects users to Indiana Legal Help. One will be placed in each of Indiana’s 92 counties. Advocates say it is something that is needed, especially in rural areas.
“The reality is, in many counties in Indiana and many counties across the United States, they're now 'legal deserts,'” Wylie said.
Abbie Bush heads up civil legal assistance programs at the Indiana Bar Foundation and worked to get the kiosks into the state.
“It was almost a no-brainer that this is what our state needed,” Bush said. “It's accessible to anybody, but we are targeting those people who are lower income and can receive free legal services.”
Those who do pro bono legal work believe those services could help prevent evictions.
“If we can intervene early, find the case before it has reached the point of not being repairable, we can help people cure for a relatively small amount of money,” Wylie said. “That's much different than what it costs society for someone to fall into homelessness.”