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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 initial 24 months, roughly 85 clinics assisted more than 300 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 through June, 2012 include:
- Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider LLP
- Bracewell & Giuliani
- Brown Rudnick
- Connecticut Bar Associationís 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. Generous support from the Fund for Greater Hartford enables Appleseed to handle these administrative tasks.
Taking Hartford H.E.L.P. Forward Through 2012
Law firms and bar associations have already committed to staffing weekly H.E.L.P. clinics from September through June of 2012, assisted as usual by students from UCONN Law School. Each volunteer attorney participates in a training course and receives a manual preparing them for the topics typically raised by homeless individuals. Early this Summer, the Hartford H.E.L.P. team will begin recruitment and training for the Fall.