Sometimes, simple legal assistance can be the key to getting someone off the streets and into a more secure and productive life. Volunteer attorneys can often help homeless individuals with their need for a birth certificate or drivers license, with applying for social security or appealing the denial of benefits, or with clearing up minor criminal matters that are preventing the individual from getting housing or applying for a job.
Such legal issues can often be resolved in a few hours, or by making telephone calls. In addition to helping homeless adults obtain lost or missing identification or expunging criminal records, attorneys can provide valuable legal advice in practice areas issues such as housing, immigration and domestic and family law.
In 2017 we revived our successful “HELP” project to provide regular volunteer legal assistance at homeless shelters in both Hartford and New Haven. Starting in September 2017 we launched this revival at the South Park Inn in Hartford and Columbus House in New Haven. Attorneys volunteered for the revival’s initial 9 months from Murtha Cullina LLP, Day Pitney LLP, Wiggin and Dana LLP and the George Crawford Black Bar Association.
U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey organized the first Homeless Experience Legal Protection (H.E.L.P.) program in 2004 to provide pro bono legal assistance to the homeless in New Orleans and has since expanded it to 15 other cities. Prompted by a January 2009 visit from Judge Zainey, Connecticut Appleseed began developing a H.E.L.P. program for Hartford.
H.E.L.P Project Launched October 2009
Hartford H.E.L.P. started providing free legal assistance to homeless individuals at two Hartford shelters in October 2009. With the exception of July and August, these free clinics have alternated continuously between Mercy Housing and the House of Bread on Tuesday mornings. Between one and three attorneys staffed each clinic each week and were typically assisted by two students from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
During the past 5 years, almost 200 clinics assisted more than – 600 homeless individuals with the issues that troubled them and thwarted their independence. The issues most commonly raised, in descending order, were:
- Social Security Disability (applications, claims and/or appeals)
- Housing Issues (landlord/tenant, Sec. 8, liens/evictions, shelter placement)
- Missing Identification
- Pardons/Expungements, including outstanding warrants
- Drivers License reinstatement, including driving history issues
- Probate matters, including name changes
Connecticut Appleseed’s Administrative Role
Connecticut Appleseed led the recruitment of local attorneys and law students, prompted and oversaw development of a training manual for the volunteer lawyers, helped recruit trainers for the volunteer attorneys and assumed ongoing administrative responsibilities for the program. Those responsibilities include motivating, scheduling, reminding, debriefing and thanking the participating volunteer attorneys. Law firms and bar associations that have participated include:
- Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider LLP
- Bracewell & Giuliani LLP
- Brown Rudnick
- Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section
- Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association
- Day Pitney LLP
- Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP
- George W. Crawford Bar Association
- Krutick Craig Law LLC
- Murtha Cullina LLP
- Reid and Riege, P.C.
Appleseed also ensures ongoing communication with shelter management, collects and manages feedback from participating attorneys by means of a survey and reports on the Hartford H.E.L.P. project through the website (www.homelesslegalprotection.org) for the national H.E.L.P. program.