Founded in East Palo Alto, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto is a nonprofit offering legal services that improve the lives of low-income families throughout the region. We specialize in immigration, housing, workers’ rights, records clearance, and consumer protection.
Our team of attorneys, paralegals and social worker work side-by-side with low-income communities and partner with community-based organizations, churches, and schools to bring about lasting change. We train and support community members to navigate the legal system and exercise their rights. We achieve our mission using multiple, innovative strategies, including community education, individual legal advice and representation, legal assistance to community groups, policy advocacy, and impact litigation.
Our impact is magnified by the support we receive from impassioned volunteers at law firms, corporations, and law schools throughout the region, who collectively donate millions of dollars in legal services annually to our clients. In 2017, CLSEPA’s expert legal staff, along with hundreds of volunteers, helped over 6,000 individuals.
MISSION + CORE VALUES
Our mission is to provide transformative legal services that enable diverse communities in East Palo Alto and beyond to achieve a secure and thriving future.
KEY ELEMENTS OF OUR MISSION
(1) We aim to deliver transformative legal services. Our goal is to support individuals and communities in effecting significant, positive changes. In order to have a transformative impact, our direct services will be coupled with other legal strategies, including community education, technical assistance, policy advocacy, and impact litigation. In addition, we will be developing new strategic partnerships and strengthening our capacity-building efforts in the community to maximize our impact.
(2) We seek to empower communities. We recognize that transformative change comes from the community itself. Over three decades ago, East Palo Alto was established as an independent city by its residents in a transformative act of self-determination. Our role as legal advocates is to promote community empowerment and support communities in determining their own futures.
(3) We serve diverse communities in East Palo Alto and beyond. As an East Palo Alto-based organization, many of our services are focused on diverse communities in East Palo Alto. However, we recognize that the challenges facing the City’s residents are often regional in scope and the need for services extends beyond East Palo Alto’s borders. As such, we remain an organization that is both rooted in East Palo Alto and serves diverse communities outside of East Palo Alto, particularly where the challenges facing these communities are interrelated.
(4) We strive to help community members achieve a secure and thriving future. We will view our work through a broader strategic lens, seeking to help community members achieve a secure and thriving future. For many of the individuals that we serve, our services will be necessary first to help community members attain personal security – for example, the immigrant survivor of domestic violence who is able to leave her abuser and feel safe after obtaining legal status. Our ultimate goal is to support community members in achieving not only security and stability but also a thriving future.
HISTORY + IMPACT
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) and its predecessor agency, the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, have a long standing history of noteworthy service in East Palo Alto and neighboring communities. Since East Palo Alto’s incorporation in 1983, the legal services offered to the community have continuously expanded in response to evolving needs.
We are an organization that is both rooted in East Palo Alto and that serves diverse communities outside of East Palo Alto, particularly where the challenges facing these communities are interrelated. For many of the individuals we assist, our services are a necessary first to help community members attain personal security and stability. However, our ultimate goal is to empower individuals to attain a thriving future and to have a transformative impact on the broader community.
East Palo Alto and neighboring communities face daunting challenges – in particular, widening regional inequality, increasing displacement of families to outlying areas, and a growing underclass of undocumented immigrants subject to abuse and predatory practices. For many years, East Palo Alto was the only city between San Francisco and San José with a rent stabilization ordinance, and it remains one of the few pockets of relative affordability in San Mateo County, which is among the top three most expensive counties in the country. But, East Palo Alto may undergo drastic transformation in coming years, as potentially thousands of community members are forced out of the city and region because their incomes fail to keep pace with the skyrocketing cost-of-living.
CLSEPA is a $5.7 million dollar (FY 2020) organization that operates in six locations in the Bay Area including in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Burlingame, Mountain View, Redwood City, and San Francisco. Our headquarters is located in a modular office building, that we own, in our hometown of East Palo Alto. In recent years, we have more than tripled in size and our growing staff of thirty-eight individuals, includes twenty-one attorneys and legal fellows with expertise in immigration, housing, employment, and record clearance. We reach community members on a broad scale by recruiting, training, and mentoring volunteers throughout Silicon Valley to assist with a variety of cases. In 2018, over 860 volunteers donated more than 28,000 hours of legal services (with a market value of over $10.9 million) to local community members.