A financial safety net for Chicago’s legal safety nets

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
By Jamie Loo  |  Law Bulletin Staff Writer
article and photos at Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

Without a parent or guardian and no place to call home, a homeless teenager is faced with many challenges and in some cases can’t even enroll in school.

Fortunately for those teens, there are organizations such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ Law Project to advocate for their right to enroll in school and access other benefits.

The groups providing support need their own financial support to stay open and keep serving the community and for some, funding from The Chicago Bar Foundation has served as a lifeline.

It’s very vital. The Chicago Bar Foundation has been a longtime consistent funder, said Patricia Nix€‘Hodes, director of the CCH Law Project. We wouldn’t be able to do this work without them.

The foundation has wrapped up its 2015 Investing in Justice Campaign, raising more than $1.5 million that will go to 34 local legal€‘aid providers. Coupled with matching contributions from law firms, companies, and partnerships with foundations and government funding, CBF Executive Director Robert A. Glaves estimates an impact of more than $2 million in grants.

More than 4,700 individual attorneys and legal professionals donated, breaking last year’s record high of 4,300 donors giving $1.3 million. The campaign had participation from 147 law firms, corporate legal departments and other law€‘related organizations.

CBF said its funds collectively reach about 200,000 people through the legal aid groups that receive the money.

Brett J. Hart, executive vice president and general counsel for United Continental Holdings Inc., was chair of this year’s Investing in Justice campaign.

From domestic violence victims to asylum seekers to elderly Chicagoans preyed upon by consumer fraud, for these people, legal help can change the course of their lives, he said in a statement. Unfortunately, there is just not enough of that help to go around, and the campaign is one concrete way we are doing something about that.

Two€‘thirds of the money raised through the campaign goes to organizational support grants, which help fund general operations a difficult pool of money for nonprofits to gather from other sources, who often specify what their money can and can’t be used for.

The CBF wants to sustain the good work the other organizations are already doing, he said. And more money raised by the campaign each year means more money will go toward those groups’ operations.

Legal€‘aid groups that receive these grants said that this reliable source of funds has given them flexibility and allows them to invest in the quality of their services.

When the state doesn’t issue its payments on time, Life Span Center for Legal Services and Advocacy Executive Director Denice Wolf Markham said the CBF’s funds help the nonprofit pay its bills and spare them from having to lay off employees.

Life Span provides legal and counseling services to domestic violence and sexual assault victims in family law matters and obtaining orders of protection, civil no€‘contact orders and some immigration services such as U€‘visas. It serves about 3,800 people annually in Cook County and received a $25,000 grant from CBF this year.

Immigrants who face domestic violence issues often choose not to pursue their claims, Markham said, because the court process can be intimidating for those with limited English proficiency. Some of Life Span’s staff of 11 attorneys are bilingual, which helps them talk to Spanish€‘, Polish€‘ and Arabic€‘speaking clients.

We provide services that are culturally sensitive and in their language, she said.

For the CCH Law Project, CBF grants have allowed them to continue the Youth Futures program, which was originally funded as a Equal Justice Works fellowship. This year, the Law Project received a $25,000 organizational support grant and a $10,000 special project grant for Youth Futures.

More than 90 percent of the CCH Law Project’s clients are homeless teens and young adults between the ages of 14 to 24, Nix€‘Hodes said.

Along with school enrollment issues, Law Project Associate Director Elizabeth Cunningham Malik said unaccompanied homeless youth also need help accessing benefits such as food stamps, health insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The program provided legal representation in 219 cases in 2014 and its mobile clinic visited 18 regular outreach sites and reached 1,500 youths.

Allen C. Schwartz, executive director of Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS), said his group has used CBF organizational support grants for technology upgrades, which funds improvements to their system that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

CARPLS provides free legal advice and referrals to low€‘income Cook County residents through its legal€‘aid hotline and help desks and reaches roughly 50,000 people annually. It received a $110,000 organizational support grant this year from CBF and a special project grant of roughly $150,000 that is matched with funds from Cook County to operate the Municipal Court Advice Desk in the Daley Center.

The latest version of the CARPLS case management system was implemented last year. Schwartz said staff attorneys and volunteers can perform advanced keyword searches to look up previous cases and outcomes, propose solutions and create new resources to let others know which strategies work.

Along with information from new clients, he said gathering and analyzing this data will help CARPLS measure success and look for areas of improvement.

The nonprofit is also updating its phone system and plans to add technology that will allow it to take Web inquiries in the future.

They (CBF) are investing in the bigger picture of CARPLS, not only today but five years away, he said. In five years, it’s not going to be the same service. It’s going to be a better service.

Along with grant dollars, legal€‘aid leaders said CBF supports them in other ways throughout the year such as training opportunities for board members and staff attorneys, including a Chicago Bar Association membership that gives legal€‘aid attorneys access to free Continuing Legal Education opportunities.

There’s also a monthly meeting of executive directors, which gives grantees an opportunity to share their experiences.

They’re just very good at bringing grantees together and approaching situations as a community, Nix€‘Hodes said. They’re helping to build the capacity of not just our organization but the legal aid community overall.


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