Funding Shortage Closes Community Legal Services

By Robert M. Crane

      The attractive red-orange brick building just off of West 25th which once housed the Community Legal Services of Cleveland, today stands has a vacant office with the decision to suspend the program this summer. Due to a lack of funding necessary to maintain regular operations, the Lutheran Metro Ministries board decided suspension of its services was the only option.

        Community Legal Services of Cleveland (CLSC) began in 1998 as the Christian Legal Services under the auspices of LMM. According to a brief from LMM, CLSC helped more than 2000 individuals in 2005. CLSC was developed to “defend the rights of the poor” through free civil legal assistance, primarily in the areas of “consumer, employment, health, welfare, immigration, expungement and housing.” They were backed by a staff of nearly 100 volunteer attorneys.

        Attorney John B. Robertson said of the service that, “In more than six years, [CLSC]… has assisted thousands of people who would have otherwise fallen through the gaps in civil legal services.”

        Director of Communication and Public Relations with Lutheran Metro Ministries, Lorraine Schuchart, describes the service as not merely a free civil legal service, but “a unique holistic program that offered clients the opportunity to address other non-legal personal needs,”

        In a statement, Robertson reports that “[a]fter careful consideration, the Board of Community Legal Services by summer’s end due to a lack of sufficient ongoing funding sources.”

       For the moment, cases are being referred to the Cleveland Legal Aid Society, Cleveland bar and the Cuyahoga Bar according to a pre-recorded message at CLSC’s offices. While unconfirmed by LMM, active cases will be assumed by the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. LMM has declared “nothing definitive” regarding the future of their civil legal services. While no reserve exists on their part, everything hangs on the ability to secure substantial funds to provide day-to-day operating expenses.

       Similar agencies throughout Cleveland such as the Legal Aid Society have begun “strategic planning processes” in order to deal with the loss of the CLSC. The Legal Aid Society, for example, retains a staff of 44 full time attorneys and handles over 8,500 cases out of over 30,000 inquiries a year.  In order to handle the ever-expanding need, a large number of volunteer attorneys are needed. This is the deadly cycle many non-profits also discover as the more volunteers, the more funding is needed to handle expenses incurred.

        The closing CLSC will be felt with all throughout the area as their crucial service to the community will not be easily replaced. The only two remaining programs which service this clientele are Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH Issue 77 published July 2006 Cleveland Ohio.