Guest BLOGGER: Kristen Horne

PROJECT HELP: Year in Review (almost)

Project H.E.L.P (Homeless Experience Legal Protection) is preparing to celebrate one year of success in assisting Columbia area homeless people with their legal needs.  More than 50 attorneys have volunteered their time and expertise at the clinic to assist about 50 clients since November 2008, when the Richland County Bar, the Public Service Committee, and community sponsors launched the project.  Project H.E.L.P’s host for its first year has been St. Lawrence Place, a transitional housing facility for working homeless families in Columbia.  With a year of knowledge and experience, and outstanding assistance from the St. Lawrence Place staff, Project H.E.L.P. is preparing to move to a new location and broaden its client base.

Some exciting changes are in the works.  Beginning in November, Project H.E.L.P. will be hosted by Catholic Charities of the Midlands, on the corner of Assembly and Taylor Street.  This new central location downtown will make the clinic more accessible to clients with limited transportation.  In the past year Project H.E.L.P. has also developed relationships with more Midlands area organizations providing assistance to the homeless and is reaching out to those groups to identify clients who are in need of the clinic’s resources.

Ideally, the clinic will be staffed with five or six volunteers who will donate about two hours of their time on the third Thursday of the month.  The goal for 2009 is to serve between 12 and 15 clients each month.  Clients will continue to make appointments to meet with an attorney volunteer so that we can identify their legal need in advance and give the volunteers a bit of time to prepare to assist the clients.

Another exciting expansion comes in the form of certifying and retaining copies of identification documents for clients.  Homeless individuals often have a difficult time keeping their driver’s licenses, social security cards, and other government issued identification.  This identification is required to use many services, including staying in some shelters.  It can often take six weeks or more to replace lost or stolen identification.  Catholic Charities has graciously offered to maintain a file of certified copies of H.E.L.P. clients’ identification to be used in case those items are lost and need to be replaced.  Volunteers will be needed to notarize these copies.  This is a great opportunity for judges and judicial clerks, paralegals, and law students to give much-needed assistance to Project H.E.L.P. clients without giving any legal advice.  Also, if you have a locking file cabinet that you would like to donate for the project, please let us know.

Project H.E.L.P. was started by Judge Jay Zainey, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Judge Zainey started Project H.E.L.P. in New Orleans to assist homeless people with maintaining certified copies of identification documents so that they would be available for service providers.  Since Hurricane Katrina’s tremendous impact on the needs of New Orleans residents, the project has grown dramatically and expanded to other cities including New York, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport, Birmingham, Savannah, as well as Columbia.

In Columbia, the RCBA H.E.L.P. project operates a once-monthly morning clinic offering pro bono legal services and providing basic information about access to government benefits, identification documentation, housing, child custody, and other common legal issues affecting the homeless.  Community programs serving the homeless help the clinic identify clients by encouraging individuals with legal needs to participate.

Morning legal clinics will be held every third Thursday of the month.

Upcoming clinic dates are October 15th, November 19th, and December 17th.

To learn more or to volunteer, please contact Kristen Horne at 255-9530.

Reprinted with permission from the Richland County Bar News. (c) 2009