Tragedy Sparks Togetherness
September 11th, 2001 was the worst of times for the City of New York, but this unprecedented crisis brought out the very best in The Legal Aid Society. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, The Legal Aid Society and its staff were on the frontlines of providing assistance and representation to affected New Yorkers. Program priorities were reordered to respond to these unprecedented challenges and we adapted our funding strategies to seek resources for expanded services. The Ford Foundation and the September 11 Fund were among the first to respond.
Despite being permanently displaced from our own headquarters at 90 Church Street, our staff worked the legal services section of FEMA seven days a week to help solve complex housing and public benefits challenges facing those directly affected by the attacks. Our staff also helped design simplified government application forms that helped thousands of additional New Yorkers.
The attacks caused a massive breakdown of court and government systems in the criminal justice and juvenile rights areas. With no electricity, telephone, or computer services, Criminal Defense staff used flashlights to review files and continued to represent clients at arraignments and proceedings. Likewise, Staff in JRP were in constant contact with the courts and held home visits and off-site interviews at facilities like the New York Foundling Hospital when necessary.
One particularly poignant case remains with many of us. On that horrible day, a Legal Aid Society staff member found a blind woman who had been working at a newspaper stand near Ground Zero. The woman was found at Church and Chambers Streets, frightened and disoriented. Our staff took her home to Queens and continued to help her obtain the government and charitable benefits that she needed to continue with her life.