Accessing legal services can be a daunting task, especially if you are low-income or homeless. Although there are 43,000 lawyers in Chicago, only 300 of them are full-time legal aid attorneys charged with meeting the needs of the 1.3 million low-income people that qualify for help.
Recognizing this access to justice gap, the Pro Bono & Community Service Initiative (PBCSI) and Center for Public Interest Law launched the Neighborhood Legal Assistance Project (NLAP), a pro bono legal help desk for the homeless, just over two years ago on March 17, 2012. Since then, NLAP has provided critical legal services to hundreds of homeless individuals in the South Loop. Staffed by a dedicated cadre of law student volunteers and a supervising attorney, NLAP takes place every other Saturday morning at a breakfast program in Printer’s Row. Run by the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, the breakfast program feeds 150 people every Saturday morning.
"A legal help desk for the homeless that actually meets the homeless where they congregate was, at least to me, a completely unheard of proposition."
NLAP's primary focus is sealing and expunging clients' criminal records, which pose a barrier to employment, public benefits and public housing—all are key to climbing out of poverty. NLAP also focuses on obtaining state identification cards, which are essential to everyday life in the city of Chicago. Additionally, NLAP provides brief advice in a wide range of other areas, including housing, public benefits, contracts, wage theft and family law matters. Many of NLAP’s clients live at the Pacific Garden Mission and are not working with social workers.