BY PETER DORFMAN
William R. Morris Jr. is well-known as “Brother William” on WFIU’s Friday afternoon “Soul Kitchen” edition of Just You and Me. But as an attorney, Morris is one of the eight lawyers and three paralegals who staff the Bloomington office of Indiana Legal Services (ILS). His focus is on housing and homelessness.
“Landlord-tenant battles epitomize what this is about,” says Morris. “Bloomington has one of the highest poverty rates in Monroe County, but it exists in the shadow of prosperity,” he says. “We represent tenants who can’t afford the average $200 an hour for a lawyer.”
Indiana Legal Services offers its clients something that many of them have never had: a voice in determining their legal and financial future.
“We represent people with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline,” says Jamie Andree, lead attorney and director of the ILS regional office in Bloomington, which serves 14 counties in southern Indiana. “These are some of the least politically powerful people in the country.”
ILS provides free services to low income people with civil legal problems. It does not represent those facing criminal prosecution. “We help people with housing problems—tenants who may be facing eviction or have habitability problems, and people facing foreclosure,” Andree says. “We represent people in collection cases, including tax cases. We handle family law, and we help people denied public benefits or facing termination of those benefits. We help expunge old criminal records. It’s a very wide range of services.”
Most ILS funding comes from the federal government through the Legal Services Corporation and the Older Americans Act, Andree says. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, a statewide project headed by Andree, is funded by the IRS. “We get state funding from the Civil Legal Aid Fund, and local funding as well,” Andree says. “And we’re a proud Monroe County United Way member agency. We also receive private donations and grants.”
A statewide nonprofit organization, ILS is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. The Bloomington office opened in 1977; Andree has been there since 1979.
“The need for our services is overwhelming,” says Andree. “If we had double the number of lawyers, we still would have to turn some people away.”
For more information, call 812-339-7668 or visit indianalegalservices.org.