Justice on wheels: law van rolling through Wellington County again

WELLINGTON COUNTY –  After a pandemic year off following a successful 2019 pilot program, the Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County’s law van is on the road again, announcing stops over social media.

Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario, the Guelph-based clinic secured $250,000 as the sole recipient of a three-year Connecting Rural Regions grant to put rubber to pavement and bring poverty law services to Wellington’s rural communities.

“We felt that this would be a really good and accessible way to bring help to people in an area where there’s challenges like transportation, geography, and just general barriers to people reaching out to get help with everyday legal issues,” said lawyer and executive director Anthea Millikin.

In 2019, nearly 500 people stopped by the van between May and October. And of those people, Millikin said 87 per cent had never contacted the clinic before.

In unsuspecting places, like a grocery store parking lot, legal help is provided for free at the van; where staff focus services on those with low incomes who are experiencing housing challenges and income issues with programs like Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program — though anyone is welcome to stop by for advice.

“The more the people know about what resources there are, where they can get help, the more legal information we can share in the community, then the better off everyone is — that’s our view,” Millikin said.

New this year, in addition to an outreach worker trained in housing issues, the van is also staffed with a lawyer, eliminating the previous need for Skype calls to lawyers from the van.

The mobile clinic is also extending its services through the winter at various indoor spots, later to be announced.

“We took what happened in 2019, and all the great results in the pilot and then we built on it and expanded it and looked at what we can do over the course of the winter and how we can really deepen our presence in rural Wellington County,” Millikin said.

Staff discovered there was even more of a need than expected during the pilot. And having relaunched at the beginning of May, the need remains with between six and 10 visits to the van per day.

Millikin said staff are encountering many people facing difficulty with a lack of available affordable housing throughout the county.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people who are getting notices, because the landlord wants to sell the building,” Millikin said, encouraging anyone to reach out to the clinic for advice surrounding rules of what can and cannot be done.

“I think what actually happens is people think, ‘I don’t have a legal issue, because I’m not involved in a court process,’” she said. “But there’s all kinds of administrative law, like rules and regulations that are put out by the government that people bump into as they go through life,” she said. “We like to think that we help navigate people through that.”

Millikin said they’re also seeing an increase in demand for lawyers who can help with wills and who will accept legal aid certificates for family law and are working to increase help with family law at the van.

“We’re so grateful to the law foundation for choosing us and for recognizing that something as simple as a rental van and a pop-up tent has such an impact,” Millikin said.

The van can be found between 10am and 3:30pm in Mount Forest on Mondays (310 Parkside Dr.), Arthur on Tuesdays (parking lot behind 156 George St.), Fergus on Wednesdays (171 Queen St. East) and Clifford and Palmerston on alternating Thursdays. To contact the legal clinic, call: 519-821-2100.