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The Spanish-speaking section of the Small Claims Advisory Service (SCAS)—an undergraduate group affiliated with the Philips Brooks House Association (PBHA)—is set to open a new community office near Central Square to serve the Latino community in the greater Boston area.
The new office, which opens on June 20, will be housed by El Concilio Hispano, a Massachusetts non-profit.
According to an SCAS press release, the group was founded in 1973 “to provide free, quality information and assistance to underprivileged members of our community in order to help them to defend their legal rights and improve the quality of their lives.”
The Massachusetts Small Claims Court settles disputes of less than $2000—typically cases involving automobile law, landlord-tenet law, consumer law, and debt law.
The Spanish-speaking contingent rose in the 1980s, said SCAS Executive Director Marco P. Basile ’08. According to Basile, the Hispanic population in Massachusetts grew by 50 percent between the 1990 and 2000 censuses—as such, it is the fastest growing segment of the population, making up about seven percent of the Massachusetts population as of 2000.
“[Many Hispanics] don’t even know that they can actually make a demand for this type of service,” said Cira Espinosa, the health department manager for El Concilio Hispano. “[SCAS] is very important because the Latino community is not educated about what small claims are, that they can actually have a claim against someone who owes them money.”
Basile said that El Concilio is providing SCAS with an office in their Central Square building free of charge. Student SCAS volunteers will be there for two hours each week starting in June as part of a summer pilot program.
“You can’t meet with clients at PBH, so [SCAS volunteers] met with clients...at another office” in Boston, Basile said. “[This] is difficult because that office is already used for other clients and it is not integrated into the Hispanic community.”
Student volunteers at SCAS are put through a rigorous comp process to teach them the appropriate legal information needed to help clients. The organization also has a supervising attorney at the Law School, though students themselves handle nearly all of SCAS’s operations, Basile said.
Espinosa said that El Concilio will also be aiding SCAS in community outreach by passing out fliers to all of its clients and spreading the word to others who serve the Latino community. Basile added that SCAS advertises in courts, Spanish-speaking newspapers, and television channels.
According to Angelico N.A. Razon ’08, the student president of PBHA, PBHA will continue to provide the new SCAS branch with organizational and logistical support.
“I’m proud of the hard work the SCAS in trying to expand so that they’re more accessible to people who need their services,” said Gene A. Corbin, executive director of PBHA.
—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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