New clinic will help poor, homeless
When Ray McNeal volunteers at his church’s Tuesday morning homeless ministry, he occasionally finds himself fielding legal questions from the poor and homeless.
Sometimes the people ask about landlord-tenant issues. They usually aren’t homeless, he said, but might be at risk of becoming so. Other times, the questions fall under immigration or family law.
Before he can help someone out, pro bono (involving or doing legal work for free), McNeal refers them to Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. That is where the former circuit judge has spent much of his time since he retired in 2006. It also is where he is working with staff to set up a legal-advice clinic that will benefit Marion County’s homeless community, including the people he sees at First United Methodist Church each week.
Jeff Harvey, Community Legal Services’ director of operations, said that pro bono work, in which local attorneys partner with the organization to donate their time, fills a critical gap. Community Legal Services has to turn away about two-thirds of those who request help, he said, either because the litigants do not qualify based on their income or because the organization lacks the funds and staff to help them.
That means that clinics, like the one McNeal has in the works, as well as others already in place, play an important role in meeting the needs of low-income litigants.