The New York State Office of Victim Services recently announced that an online resource connecting crime victims with information and free legal assistance is now available in Westchester County, allowing victims to learn about their rights and connect with resources or legal representation to ensure their interests are represented. This was established using $1.5 million in federal funds secured by the state agency, New York Crime Victims Legal Help.
Many victims of crime have legal needs resulting from their victimization – assistance with housing or custody matters, for example – but are unsure where to turn for help. This user-friendly, online resource makes it easier for those individuals to get the assistance they need.
“In the months since the New York Crime Victims Legal Help resource has gone online, it has proven to be a guidepost for individuals who are struggling to piece their lives back together after they’ve been victimized,” Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said. “With the continued expansion of this service, more victims will be able to learn about their rights and access local legal resources to help them navigate civil matters involving housing, immigration, family court, social services, and more.”
Crime victims who live or have a civil legal issue can use the Crime Victims Legal Help screening tool and online directory to get information and assistance and if necessary, find an attorney. To help ensure that a network of attorneys is available to assist victims, the Office of Victim Services also has provided nearly $16 million in federal funding to 61 victim assistance programs throughout the state, including New York City. The funding has allowed those programs to hire attorneys and other staff to represent victims’ interests as needed.
The Office of Victim Services received the $1.5 million grant for the project from the federal Office for Victims of Crime and partnered with the Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net and the University at Albany’s Center for Human Services Research to develop the resource, which assists crime victims outside of New York City. Civil legal resources can be scarce or difficult to access in the rest of the state, particularly in rural communities.
The resource features a user-friendly screening tool that allows crime victims to identify what legal needs they may have and then locate relevant resources; a searchable legal service help directory with filters to isolate organizations that can assist with specific issues; a self-help resource library to inform them of their rights; and a live chat function to access referral information in real time. Crime victim advocates and service providers also can use the screening tool and legal help directory to assist individuals they serve and crime victims can connect with Office of Victim Services-funded programs that can provide counseling, shelter and other assistance, in addition to helping them apply for financial assistance from the agency.
New York Crime Victims Legal Help focuses on the most common civil legal problems identified by crime victims and service providers through a needs assessment conducted by the Center for Human Services Research: family, housing, finances, employment, and immigration matters. Pro Bono Net and the Empire Justice Center also identified legal advocates who assist crime victims using the website and recruited trained law student volunteers who staff the website’s live chat function.
The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, helping eligible individuals with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. The agency also funds more than 200 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services, among other help, across the state.
For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.