Current statistics regarding poverty and income inequality in New York City paint a disturbing picture. Both are on the rise. The population of New York City’s poor is 1.6 million and nearly one in five households in the City now rely on food stamps. Income inequality is greater in New York City and State than in any other state or metropolitan area in the country, with the average income of the top 5 percent of households in Manhattan ($837,668) constituting 81 times the average income of those in the bottom 20 percent ($10,328). Exacerbating the problems facing our city’s poor is the dearth of available legal assistance and the sharp decrease in funding for civil legal services. Approximately half of all low-income New Yorkers experienced one or more legal problems in the past year. Over 2.3 million, most of whom were low-income, were unrepresented in court during this same period. In spite of this critical need for assistance, the IOLA Fund, a critical source of funding for legal services, “declined dramatically – falling with interest rates from close to $32 million annually to less than $8 million (40 cents per person)” in New York State.
It is in the context of this overwhelming need that Open Hands Legal Service provides free legal counseling to low-income New Yorkers. Since we opened our legal aid desk at Father’s Heart Ministries, we have provided legal counseling relating to housing, public benefits, immigration, shelter, family and criminal law to more than 200 individuals. Most importantly, we have had opportunities to pray with our clients, joining them in leaning on the power and mercy of God to sustain them and to provide solutions and hope in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. Although the demand is great, we praise God for the opportunity He has given us to serve. We pray for increased strength and wisdom to serve in this difficult economic climate and we thank you for your continued support.
For more information and the statistics cited in this article, see: Ginia Bellfante, Steps Away but Worlds Apart in New York, The New York Times, September 16, 2011; Sam Roberts, One in Five New York City Residents Living in Poverty, The New York Times, September 22, 2011; Sam Roberts, Income Disparity is Greatest in New York, Census Finds, The New York Times, October 27, 2011; November 2010 Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York Report to the Chief Judge.