Washoe Seniors Face Loss of Legal Help

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RENO, NV - For 20 years now the services available to our older residents at the Washoe County Senior Center have included the Senior Law Project, essentially a public law firm offering free legal services to those over 60.

The cases handled here reflect the concerns of that vulnerable population--foreclosure, eviction, living wills, assistance with Social Security and Medicare.

More than 2-thousand a year have needed and sought help here,but that may not last much longer.

A series of budget cuts, and, some say a persistent push by Senior Services Director Grady Tarbutton, to outsource its services have left this office limited at present, it's future in doubt.

Proposals to outsource its work have been floated for the past three years, but have been beaten back. Instead, there have been big staff cutbacks which has limited its services and led to a back log.

All of this is a big concern for people like Joyce Bain, who went to the Commission meeting Tuesday morning with friend and senior advocate Peggy Lear Bowen to voice those concerns.

The 95 year old Verdi resident says the Senior Law Project staff and associated attorneys went to bat for her when identity thieves stole from her bank account and even met her at the hospital when she needed a living will written.

They were a life line for her then, she says, now she worries they won't be there for others.

"I didn't have the money for a lawyer at that time," she says. "They helped me when I needed it, They were there for me."

In fact, current clients are trapped in the limbo created by the uncertainty of what's ahead.

Anyone applying for help is told the center isn't accepting any cases that may need long term commitment.

And though outsourcing may sound like a reasonable alternative. Others say agencies that may end up with the contract don't offer the same level of service.

"Literally I've had a friend who had her file handed back to her the day before a filing had to be made before the state Supreme Court," she says of one of the agencies likely to get the contract.

"We need Washoe County to step and say the seniors have been there for us throughout their lifetimes. We need to be there for them."

Whether that will happen remains to be seen. Tuesday afternoon the Washoe County Commission held a workshop to discuss the issue.

The Senior Law Project receives no general county funds and is largely funded through grants. It does receive a share of the ad valorum tax earmarked for senior services. That share has been reduced in recent years.