Community Spotlight: Virginia Poverty Law Center

Woman speaker showing support poverty law center.

The personal injury attorneys of Marks & Harrison are proud of the communities that we serve throughout Virginia. Every day, we encounter individuals and organizations who work hard to enrich our communities and make a difference in people’s lives. That is why we have launched our “Community Spotlight” series. Our goal is to spread the word about the valuable contributions that a wide range of organizations make to our communities and to encourage others to become involved. This month, we turn our spotlight on the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

Get to Know the Virginia Poverty Law Center

Virginia Poverty Law Center
919 East Main Street, Suite 610
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 782-9430

The Virginia Poverty Law Center is a 501(c)(3) organization that was launched in 1978. For more than 40 years, the VPLC has worked hard to break down “systemic barriers that keep low-income Virginians in the cycle of poverty.” The VPLC carries out this mission through a combination of:

  • Advocacy – The VPLC is highly active when it comes to supporting and proposing laws that affect the poor and vulnerable. For instance, in 2019, the organization seven new laws that will improve the rights of tenants in Virginia and six new laws that should better the lives of children living in foster care.
  • Education – VPLC is the only statewide organization which provides training to local Virginia Legal Aid offices, private attorneys (including those doing pro bono work) and low-income clients. This training focuses exclusively on protecting and expanding the legal rights of low-income Virginia residents. VPLC also provides several online reference guides on topics such as foster care, Medicaid, affordable energy and supplemental nutrition assistance.
  • Litigation – Although VPLC provides direct legal representation in only a limited number of cases, the organization partners with Virginia Legal Aid and others to help low-income Virginia residents to understand and take legal action in civil legal matters in areas such as consumer, housing, family, employment and health care law.

Because of the important work it does, the Virginia Poverty Law Center receives widespread support from the state’s legal community, including Marks & Harrison. We are proud to say that one of our attorneys, Joanna L. Suyes, has served on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Breaking Down Systemic Barriers for Virginia’s Low-Income Residents

The Virginia Poverty Law Center focuses on civil legal issues in a wide range of areas, including:

  • Consumer Law – Through its work, VPLC addresses issues such predatory lending, debt collector harassment and student loan servicing. It also partners with credit unions and credit counseling agencies to improve financial education for low-income residents as well as the elderly and children living in foster care. Many people seek help through VPLC’s Predatory Lending Helpline at (866) 830-4501.
  • Housing Law – Access to affordable housing is a major issue in communities throughout Virginia. VPLC seeks to protect the rights of tenants, government housing program residents and low-income homeowners, including educating them on how to handle landlord-tenant disputes and avoid predatory lenders. A great resource for information is VPLC’s Eviction Helpline at (833) 663-8428.
  • Health Law – VPLC often works with groups such as Healthcare for All Virginians, Virginia Coalition for Children’s Health and Advocates for the Disabled to improve access to quality health care – one of the biggest crises facing the poor in our state and throughout the country.
  • Public Benefits Law – The organization provides legal training and educational outreach concerning public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
  • Domestic and Sexual Violence Law – VPLC helps victims of domestic and sexual violence to get legal help for matters such as obtaining protective orders. The organization also focuses on legal assistance for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
  • Elder Law – The VPLC’s staff addresses issues for those ages 60 and older through work with Virginia Legal Aid offices, Virginia’s Long-Term Care Ombudsmen program, and the Virginia Department of the Aging. The VPLC also provides a Senior Legal Helpline at (844) 802-5910.
  • Family and Child Welfare Law – The VPLC’s seeks to improve outcomes for low-income Virginia residents who face legal issues involving matters such as foster care, adoption, kinship care, divorce, child custody and child support.

In addition to these areas, VPLC participates in several special initiatives such as the Affordable Clean Virginia Hunger Solutions and the Campaign to Reduce Evictions. VPLC also helps to organize the Annual Statewide Legal Aid Conference – a three-day event that focuses on civil poverty law and justice issues. The 2020 conference will take place in October in Virginia Beach.

Ensuring Low-Income Virginians Voices Are Heard

A major component of the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s work involves meeting with lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly to “defend, preserve and enhance opportunities” for low-income Virginia residents in several key areas, including housing, public benefits, health care, elder care, family and child welfare, domestic violence, sexual abuse and consumer protection. You can see the issues which are currently on VPLC’s radar by checking out its 2020 Legislative Agenda and 2020 Crossover Report.

40 Years, 40 Faces

To get a good understanding of the Virginia Poverty Law Center’s impact on the live of individuals and families throughout the state, you should check out the “40 Years, 40 Faces” exhibit. The project features a combination of Glen McClure’s stunning black-and-white portrait photographs and interviews by writer Marshall McClure. Those featured in “40 Years, 40 Faces” include a domestic violence survivor, a tenant whose landlord tried to charge him for apartment repairs and a woman who needed help with payday loan issues. As the exhibit’s curator writes, Jeffrey Allison, writes, the exhibit provides “a window into the lives of those Virginians who live in low-income circumstances while working to make their lives better with dignity, hope, and at times, simple acceptance.”

How Can You Support the Virginia Poverty Law Center

As a non-profit organization, the Virginia Poverty Law Center can always use donations, large or small, which help the organization to carry on with its mission. Go to the VPLC’s website to use its online form to make a donation.