17 In New York City, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, nearly half of the population lives near the poverty line, defined as an income of $20,160 a year for a family of three. Earning very meager salaries, these New Yorkers struggle to afford basic necessities, including food and housing: 1 in 6 New Yorkers relies on soup kitchens and food pantries every day, while 3 in 10 spend more than half of their incomes on rent. For many low-income New Yorkers, paying the rent while putting food on the table can be a virtually impossible balancing act. The slightest slip, such as a minor legal issue, can set off a downward spiral that leaves an individual homeless, jobless, or in danger of losing custody of a child. Under the auspices of Open Hands Legal Services, Mintz Levin attorneys Yilei He and Rachel Gholston visit places like soup kitchens, shelters, and community centers to provide legal clinics to people in need. Founded in 2009, Open Hands brings free legal clinics to 10 host nonprofits throughout the city and currently serves approximately 900 low-income New Yorkers. “With so many people from so many different areas of the city, you never know what the day will bring,” Yilei said. At an Open Hands legal clinic, Yilei may help someone find suitable housing, fight an unfair eviction, seek protection from unfair labor practices, or avoid the collateral consequences of a prior criminal conviction. “No matter how different the issues might be, all of my cases have one thing in common: the clients want to be listened to, and for that they have enormous gratitude,” she said. “Most of my clients cannot believe that anyone would care about them. They are some of the most ignored people in our population.” Yilei meets her legal clinic clients for only one brief point in time, so she needs to make sure she gets it right. “We really try our best to be a resource to get them to the right place to address their issues,” she said. Since the goal of the clinic is to provide brief, same-day advice, Yilei doesn’t learn the ultimate outcomes. What she does know is that people often come to her confused, nervous, and even scared, and usually leave with a better understanding of their situations and some direction as to what they need to do to resolve their issues. Giving Open Hands a Helping Hand “At Open Hands, we believe the law is one of the most powerful anti-poverty tools out there. By using the law to fight evictions, we help low-income New Yorkers break the cycle of poverty. We could not do this work without our volunteer attorneys and are grateful for the time and dedication Mintz Levin attorneys provide to our clients.” Kathleen Slocum Executive Director Open Hands Legal Services