April 22, 2024

Colorado Legal Services investments into the state’s, Weld County’s future are paying off – Greeley Tribune

The Colorado Legal Services at 912 8th Avenue in downtown Greeley helps with legal help for those who cannot afford legal advice.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

Colorado Legal Services is putting in the work now so the state — and Weld County — can reap the benefits down the line.

The nonprofit provides free civil legal services to qualified low-income Coloradans, handling more than 358 Weld County cases in 2022, according to a report from Community Services Analysis.

Those cases spanned everything from tenant-landlord disputes to public benefits issues to debtor relief. And they led to an immediate and long-term impact of over $4.2 million throughout the county, according to the report.

But how exactly?

That $4.2 million is what the people of Weld County — and the county itself — saved in 2022, plus what they are expected to save in the future because of the work Colorado Legal Services did.

Social return on investment measures the financial value created by an organization through the services it delivers to the community. It factors in both the immediate direct value — what it would cost to replace the nonprofit’s work, plus legal settlements and court awards — and the long-term impacts, which include future savings in community support costs, housing and support costs for homeless families and law enforcement.

So $804,000 of that $4.2 million is the cost of the services the nonprofit provided, plus money won in court. The other $3.4 million is what Weld County communities are expected to save moving forward.

Colorado Legal Services Executive Director Matt Baca said the nonprofit’s work to get people identification documents, known as ID Project, is a prime example of the value the nonprofit creates.

“Two-thirds of our clients in the ID Project are experiencing homelessness,” Baca said. “Getting them an ID allows them to get a job or housing they would otherwise not be able to get.”

Getting people employed and in housing for which they wouldn’t have previously qualified can save taxpayers exponentially down the line in low-income support programs alone.

“What you see when you run an analysis like this is that it has a snowball effect over time,” Baca said. “So getting an ID, for example, somebody is on a completely different trajectory than they otherwise would have been.

‘Dollars and cents returned to the community’

A third-party analysis released by Community Services Analysis in December shows Colorado Legal Services provided a 619% return on investment on work provided in 2022. That means for every dollar invested in the nonprofit in 2022, Colorado received $6.19 of immediate and long-term financial benefits, according to the report.

That translated to an estimated $105 million to the state through services provided to low-income residents in 2022.

“A 600% return on investment is out of this world for any type of investment you can make,” Baca said. “And I think when folks dig a little deeper and look at the kinds of things that are resulting in these numbers, just about everybody anywhere is going to be on board.”

That 619% return is up from 431% in 2021 and is creeping closer toward pre-pandemic numbers, according to a new release from the nonprofit.

“We all recognize doing this work that it’s impossible to quantify the value of justice for Coloradans in poverty,” Baca said. “At the same time, we see this report and how the incredible dedication of our staff translates to dollars and cents returned to the community.”

Colorado Legal Services provides free legal services to qualified low-income people who would not otherwise have access to the justice system, according to their website.

The nonprofit has 13 offices across the state, including one in Greeley, 912 8th Ave., that serves Weld County, along with Morgan, Washington and Yuma counties.

The Greeley office has just five attorneys who handled the 358 cases in 2022. Those five attorneys helped with more housing issues than any other category in Weld County, which is consistent with statewide numbers.

In Weld alone, the nonprofit handled 208 housing cases, resulting in a direct service impact of $341,300 and an expected long-term impact of over $1.19 million.

“Housing continues to be the number one case that we see across the board,” Baca said. “And it really reflects the housing crisis we’re seeing all across Colorado.”

Most of those cases were private landlord-tenant issues, but Colorado Legal Services also helped with dozens of cases involving federally subsidized housing and housing discrimination cases across the county.

Baca, however, doesn’t want anybody to confuse volume with importance. Housing issues tend to be among some of the faster cases to resolve, he said, so the nonprofit can tackle more of them.

Colorado Legal Services also aided with 68 family issues, resulting in an expected long-term impact of $1.48 million. And in just seven ID Project cases in Weld, the nonprofit generated an expected long-term impact of more than $461,000.

And while housing issues may make up the bulk of what Colorado Legal Services’s attorneys tackled in 2022, the nonprofit offers services for more than 100 types of legal problems.

Those problems typically fall into seven categories:

  1. Housing issues, which involve loss of housing due to foreclosure or eviction, public housing issues, private landlord-tenant problems and sub-standard housing conditions;
  2. Family issues, which include domestic violence, divorce, child custody and visitation, child or elder abuse, spousal and child support, guardianship and adoption;
  3. Health care issues involving private health insurance, long-term health care facilities, home and community-based care and other health issues;
  4. Employment issues, which involve employment discrimination, wage claims, tax issues, employment safety, agricultural workers and other employment issues;
  5. Public benefits issues, including public programs such as Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, temporary assistance for needy families, veterans’ benefits and unemployment compensation;
  6. Consumer protection cases involving bankruptcy, debt and wage garnishments, unlawful collection practices, tax issues, and repossessions;
  7. Other community issues, such as employment, immigration, wills and estates, civil rights and other individual rights issues.

Though the categories help understand the nonprofit’s services, those services often overlap, Baca said.

For example, helping someone apply for Medicaid benefits is categorized as a public benefits issue, but it directly ties into health care that client can receive.

Colorado Legal Services also has a medical-legal partnership that Baca called a “model for the country” and one he hopes to see expand.

As part of the partnership, medical providers will refer patients to Colorado Legal Services if they think legal intervention is also needed.

“A doctor may say, ‘I’m treating this person for asthma, and they’re telling me they have a house full of mold,’” Baca said. “Maybe they should have a referral.”

“It’s really about treating the whole person,” he added.

Another program aimed at doing just that is their social worker program, which was created in 2021 to connect social workers with clients in need. The program started with just one social worker but has expanded to a team of five — serving well over 300 clients in 2023.

The program has been focused on housing, but in October, Colorado Legal Services was awarded a grant for $410,000 to expand the service to include survivors of domestic violence who live outside the Denver metro area.

Baca said grants such as that make up about half of Colorado Legal Services’ funding, while the other half typically comes from private donors. The nonprofit also heavily relies on pro bono work from local attorneys.

To apply for Colorado Legal Services help, go to applyonlinecls.org or visit one of the 13 offices across the state.

The Greeley office is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. The phone number is (970) 353-7554.

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