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Homeless Find Assistance Through New Bar Project

Nelson Mullins attorneys are helping the homeless with their legal needs through a new Richland County Bar Association initiative that mirrors a growing national project called Project H.E.L.P (Homeless Experience Legal Protection).

Project H.E.L.P. was started by Judge Jay Zainey, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Project H.E.L.P. started in New Orleans to assist homeless people with maintaining identification documents and providing their service providers with certified copies. Following Hurricane Katrina, the project grew dramatically and has expanded to other cities including New York, Chicago, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Shreveport, Birmingham, and Savannah, as well as Columbia.

In Columbia, the project began a once-monthly morning clinic Nov. 20 offering pro bono legal services and providing basic information about access to government benefits, identification documentation, housing, child custody, and other common legal issues affecting the homeless. Area programs serving the homeless encourage individuals with identified legal needs to participate in the clinic. Attorneys assisting in the first clinic were Billy McGee, Sheryl Ortmann, and Debbie Durban.

An initial training session attracted some 58 attorneys and paralegals, said Norah Rogers, who, along with Stuart Andrews and George Cauthen, oversaw the startup. In addition, Kristen Horne and Carmen Thomas are providing support through RCBA’ Public Service Committee. Columbia Partner Billy McGee now oversees the project.

Project H.E.L.P’s host, St. Lawrence Place, is a transitional housing facility for working homeless families in Columbia. The facility’s 30 units provide housing for homeless families referred to St. Lawrence Place by various shelters and other agencies in the city.
Each St. Lawrence Place family participates in programs developed by professional staff who emphasize family enrichment, education instruction, job training, and interpersonal skills. There is also an after-school program for children. Active participation in these programs is required for families living at St. Lawrence Place. Residents are also expected to find and keep employment, maintain their apartment properly, pay bills in a timely manner, and demonstrate growth and progress in their family’s life plan.

Half-day legal clinics will be held every third Thursday of the month. To learn more or to volunteer, contact Norah Rogers at 9546 or Kristen Horne at 9530.