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PA Legal Triage in High Demand in Tough Times

February 23, 2009

Pittsburgh, PA - These trying economic times mean more Pennsylvanians on the lower end of the income scale need legal help with a range of issues from utility shut-offs to evictions, and an increase in calls to legal helplines reflect the rising needs.

The situation has prompted the Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh to expand services by staffing their help line two additional evenings each week. Association attorney Pam Dalton-Arlotti says demand for services is up 10 percent in the last year, and adds that in this dire economic climate, free legal help can be a lifeline.

"We represent people in crisis. I'd like to describe us as the 'emergency room' of the legal profession."

Dalton-Arlotti says her group helps people who would otherwise have no options when faced with legal problems such as evictions and utility shut-offs.

She says that often the legal help they provide gives people an opportunity to get back on their feet.

"Just talking to a lawyer who's saying, 'They can't do that;' that just gives people a chance to breathe."

Dalton-Arlotti says a lot of the issues that are handled via the help line are driven by the economic situation.

"The majority of the calls that the help line staff is dealing with are debt-collection matters, and housing issues, such as private-landlord tenant evictions."

NLSA provides help for residents of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties. The toll-free help line number is 866-761-NLSA (6572). Help is also available online at www.palegalaid.net)

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - PA