After nearly five years without any physical representation in Taos County, New Mexico Legal Aid has brought in an attorney to help with case management in the northern part of the state.
Jonathan Hupp joined the organization just two weeks ago but has already faced a handful of issues as he attended to residents’ civil legal needs.
“We have offices in Santa Fe, and there are a good handful of lawyers there. And then we have another attorney who is in an office in Las Vegas, but there has been no one, at least in person, here for the northern counties,” Hupp explained.
He said he planned to spend his first few weeks getting to know people’s needs. “I think a big part of my first few months on the job and my first assignments is figuring out exactly what the needs are and how we can best meet them,” he said. “I can imagine there is a dire need for housing assistance here.”
Although NM Legal Aid is not in the business of tenancy assistance, they can help with wrongful evictions and explain tenant rights. “These are all things that we manage,” Hupp said. “Even if someone doesn’t have one of these issues, if they call the hotline, we can at least direct them to services that might be able to help with direct assistance or something. something like that.”
Besides housing, Hupp said another area of focus is wildfire relief and FEMA assistance. “We actually have a teleclinic on the 29th that we’re really trying to get the word out about. [FEMA assistance],” he said. “One thing that the northern office supervisor shared with me is that only about 1,200 people applied for [wildfire] assistance.”
However, Hupp said three to four times that number of northern New Mexico residents are likely eligible. “People just don’t know these programs are available to them…people have kind of lost the idea that there is a connection or an opportunity to get help. So we really need to let people know that we’re here to be a voice in the justice system for people who don’t have one,” he said.
Hupp added that NM Legal Aid can also help with “predatory lending practices — like payday lending, title lending, that sort of thing — and economic security or instability issues, that is.” that is, people who potentially lose public benefits”.
The Taos office at 204 Montoya Street is technically not open to the public to discuss his issues, but after completing the central admissions process (one phone call lasting about 30 minutes), Hupp is then able to meet customers. “Even though we want to have an open door policy, we are a statewide organization and they have federal regulations and different rules that we have to follow,” he said.
Residents seeking assistance can call 833-545-4357 to go through the admissions process.
Hupp said he came to work from Arizona, where he practiced as a criminal defense attorney. He said he and his wife fell in love with Taos after visiting the area.
“I always wanted to do something that was more community-focused,” he said of the new position. “You go to law school and you think you’re going to help all these people and those are your goals and everything, but when you get so specialized, you feel like you’re just disconnected from that ability to help when your friends call you, or if your neighbor has a problem.
He said that being able to be a legal resource for people who wouldn’t normally have one “really seemed like what I wanted to do.”
In addition to taking the pulse of the community, Hupp strives to connect with community partners. “I just tried to work on networking; determine who is here and meet with them to let them know we are here,” he said. “We just want people to know that we are committed to being a community partner and giving voice in the justice system to people who don’t have it.”
“Traditionally, the justice system has frankly served the wealthy. And there are a lot of needs out there; there are many people who don’t even know this resource exists. So we just want people to know that we’re here and we’re here to serve if we can.