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Blog post: The N.C. Justice Center and Legal Aid are both officially useless

By Monica Chen

Oh boy, I did not know how much the N.C. Justice Center and Legal Aid NC have changed, and not in good ways at all.

The N.C. Justice Center used to be a better-equipped version of Legal Aid. The kind of organization that could help with legal matters beyond the local level. At least that was my impression.

Not so much anymore. Same goes for Legal Aid, which is supposed to help poor and vulnerable residents. Both organizations seem to have changed their missions. The former, to serving illegal immigrants only, and the latter to helping with very, very stereotypical problems.

Neither seems to be interested in helping Triangle residents with real problems that we do have.

I contacted both organizations this week seeking help with harassment from Durham city government. I know that other people are having problems with the same department.

At the N.C. Justice Center, there’s a Housing department. Oh wait, it’s not to help with municipal government and utility abuses of residents like everyone is experiencing. It’s this:

“The Consumer, Housing & Energy Project is dedicated to improving housing conditions for people with low incomes and to protecting North Carolinians from harmful and abusive business practices.”

Is this the ’90s? Where is the acknowledgement of what 2023 consumers need help with? And then if you call, you quickly find out from the recorded message that the legal assistance they provide is mostly on immigration law, and related civil litigation and DACA recipients. That’s it?

Then I called the Legal Aid in Durham. The music that’s played on hold is jazz that sounds like it’s from the ’60s. (It was very nice. I want to find out what song it was.) But it felt retro and not like it’s part of society right now.

And then, when you call, that’s when you figure out they have no interest in helping you if you don’t fit into their very stereotypical view of the world.

Mecklenburg County veterans? Apparently call Legal Aid in Durham for help. So do Wilmington residents who are settling a dispute. And IRS tax disputes. And again, illegal immigrants and “DREAMERS,” step right up.

The woman who took my call listened as I recounted harassment from the Durham Police. But she lost interest very fast when I clarified that right now, the problem I have is with a city department.

Still, she listened to my recount of what had happened and said she’d have to call me back. She’d have to check with her supervisor. And she asked if I was a homeowner or if I was renting. I’m a homeowner.

A few minutes later, she called back. She said her supervisor had turned it down. The only thing they help homeowners with is foreclosure.

Hear that? If you’re a responsible homeowner and you have your property but you’re sick of the way you’re being treated by the city, there’s no legal help for you to address these problems. It doesn’t matter that these problems are widespread and so there’s a lot of people seeking legal aid.

Legal Aid only wants to help you if you are experiencing loss, if you’re losing your home. Then you get a pat on the head and help with the paperwork. They won’t help you hold on to anything or assert your rights though. Your tears are wanted, not your rights.

Sometimes, you step outside the reporter’s lens when you need help as a resident and that’s when your view of the world is clarified. I learned this week that my view of both organizations was very out of date. Both the N.C. Justice Center and Legal Aid have become useless.

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