Thanks to CARES Act funding, Minnesota now has a statewide network of legal kiosks. The COVID-19 pandemic moved much of the legal system virtual, exposing the digital divide as an additional barrier to legal advice and resources. The 250 kiosks, requested by the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition and coordinated by legal aid throughout the state, open access to legal services for thousands of Minnesotans with low incomes and transportation challenges.
The 250 kiosks are located in courts, agencies, nonprofits, and organizations that partner with legal aid. One such organization, which already had a strong partnership with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s St. Cloud office, is Promise Neighborhood Central Minnesota, a community-led organization on the southeast side of St. Cloud. Promise Neighborhood provides year-round academic programs for youth, and resources and trainings for adults.
“Our community faces challenges with culture, race, and exclusion,” says Program Coordinator Eric Andrews. “People find comfort addressing their legal questions in the same setting where they’ve found supportive services for other challenges, with people they already know and trust.”
The kiosk is a locked-down Windows desktop computer with internet access and legal aid information. There is also a printer, scanner, and access to Zoom meetings. The interface is available in English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong. Promise Neighborhood has placed the kiosk in the community room, and it is open for use by staff, volunteers and participating families.
“It’s a nice, friendly setup, not tucked away in a back office or corner,” Andrews says. “We are a 100% community-led organization, and we aren’t top-heavy with professionals. We’ve had training on how to use the kiosk, and now people can come in and access legal resources and support that we wouldn’t normally be able to generate in our community.”
Many of the problems addressed with the kiosk at Promise Neighborhood revolve around housing – unfair evictions, extra fees, and landlords that refuse to do repairs and maintenance. Other issues include handling threatening letters and obtaining or renewing drivers’ licenses. Staff and volunteers who are familiar with the kiosk help people find legal resources, apply for legal aid, and fill out documents. The kiosk is also used to respond to letters and emails, communicate with attorneys and court clerks, and draft and send documents back and forth confidentially.
“Because this kiosk is ours, some of the information stays with us, unlike when outsiders come in and leave when funding runs out,” says Andrews. “We don’t always have access and often can’t afford training opportunities out there to get our community in a better place. Access to legal information means we can help each other instead of waiting for a lawyer to come in and do something for us.”
A lawyer from Legal Aid’s St. Cloud office still comes to Promise Neighborhood twice a week to work directly with clients on more complex issues. In between visits, attorney and client can easily communicate via the kiosk.
“This kiosk has been a bright light and really added to the ways we can share information and empower the people we serve,” Andrews adds. “One of the most important aspects is teaching folks how to advocate for each other. We can look at the resources together, see what we can do, review the lease, and understand both landlord and tenant responsibilities. The kiosk is an all-around hub for us to be better support for our community with housing challenges and other issues too.”