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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event

Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program (CHLAP)

What was CHLAP?

The Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program (CHLAP) was a joint project between NEOCH and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. It was designed to provide legal assistance to indigent people who are homeless, in danger of becoming homeless or those who have been homeless during the recent past. Many people who came to the intake sessions are not homeless. They were, however, poor and unable to hire an attorney. CHLAP struggled for five years without staff and slowly dwindled because of a lack of attention.

The existing legal assistance programs do not meet the legal needs of indigent homeless persons. Access to the judicial system is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Such access cannot be made dependent on an individual’s ability to hire a lawyer.

The program lost staff in the downturn of 2008, and never really recovered.  NEOCH did not include the program in the 2017 to 2020 Strategic Plan.  At its height it was serving over 400 people a year.  The volunteers who worked with the program working family law, housing, expungements and public benefits cases. The Program never represented individuals charged with crimes. Those clients were referred to the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s office where they will receive excellent representation.

The need for legal assistance to indigent persons is still growing. The resources available to them are limited. The Bar Association, the volunteers at Catholic Legal Services and Legal Aid both work to meet these growing needs.

Program Previously Provided Benefits

CHLAP provided people with information. This makes a difference to someone trying to navigate the legal system. Giving people information empowers them to take control of a situation that they may find confusing, frustrating and frightening. Teaching people about their legal rights is essential. People realize they are able to resolve problems in an effective manner.

CHLAP established intake sessions at several sites. In 2014, these sites are: West Side Catholic Center, Bishop Cosgrove Center, the May Dugan Center, the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter, Volunteers of America, VOA Veterans Resource Center, Salvation Army Harbor Light, Lakewood Community Service Center, North Star Re-Entry Center, and the men’s shelter at 2100 Lakeside. Some of the sites are only for residents, please check the schedule.

It is often not possible to refer clients to attorneys for direct representation. As a result, CHLAP was  developed to provide the necessary information and forms to clients so they can represent themselves. This is pro se representation.

In 2003, CHLAP initiated the Pro Se Divorce Project in the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. Individuals who meet specific criteria can contact CHLAP and be assisted in filing for divorce. The client completes a Divorce Questionnaire and law students, clerking for CHLAP, prepare the pleadings.  Check with the Bar Association on the continued availability of these classes. 

Clients were also being provided with assistance to request administrative hearings for child support modifications and expungement of criminal convictions.

These programs provide clients with the tools they need to resolve their legal problems. It also reminds people that being poor is not a crime and they do have rights under our legal system.

How to Contact the Program

People seeking assistance can contact Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association by calling 216/696-3525. The Bar Association is on the Second Floor on One Cleveland Center at the corner of East 9th and St. Clair across from the Downtown YMCA.

If you are an Attorney, Paralegal or Law Student and wish to volunteer, please contact the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.

What can volunteers do to help at CHLAP?

Volunteer opportunities exist for lawyers, paralegals and law students at the Cleveland Bar Association. Lawyers can volunteer two hours a month at one of six intake sites. Volunteers conduct interviews, answer questions and assist in addressing the client’s legal needs. Attorneys who can provide direct pro bono legal assistance in the family law area are desperately needed.

Paralegals can also assist at the intake sessions. Law students and paralegals assist clients by conducting legal research and preparing documents and pleadings for client in pro se matters.

The Bar Association offers continuing education including in areas of divorce, custody, visitation, employment, bankruptcy, housing and Social Security. If you are interested in volunteering for this program, the Bar Association has an easy way to sign up as a volunteer on their website here