Law clinic helps homeless with civil situations
When Ray McNeal, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida board member and volunteer, saw a need to bring legal aid to the homeless he connected his church, First United Methodist’s Family Life Center, and our nonprofit law firm to accomplish the task. The need for legal aid greatly outweighs the resources available. Hosting legal clinics like these is way to reach more people so they can receive the help and advice they seek. Assisting community members so they can navigate the system pro se, which is a Latin term meaning “for oneself,” relives some of the burden on the courts who often face challenges with people who do not understand the proper processes and procedures.
“Condonation, tort, writ of summons, affidavit, pendente lite, subpoena duces tecum; these terms can be hard to understand without a law degree to your name.
Hiring a law degree-carrying person to help you understand them can also be hard, maybe impossible, if you are a person who is homeless.
When Neil Gering’s wife filed for divorce, he knew he could not afford to hire an attorney. So, instead, he turned to former Judge Ray McNeal and Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida. He visited the agency’s office at 1610 SE 36th Ave. in Ocala as well as its table at Ocala First United Methodist Church’s Tuesday Morning Ministry for the homeless.
“We’re like a coach,” McNeal said.
He said most of the people he meets, like Gering, will end up representing themselves in court. He and the other volunteers are there to guide them through the process, McNeal said.
Gering visited McNeal whenever a new filing was entered in his case or to ensure he filled out a form correctly.
McNeal was already volunteering at legal services and the church’s homeless ministry, which includes opportunities for attendees to sign up for bicycles, eye glasses, cellphones, clothes and anything else a person who is homeless might need, as well as a warm meal. He wanted to bring the two causes together.
He, along with Iris Castro, a pro bono assistant at legal services, and local attorney Craig Cannon, spend Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon answering questions, helping translate legal jargon and simply helping others.
“Ours is a helping, therapeutic profession,” McNeal said of law.
The trio sees cases from divorces and guardianship issues to landlord-tenant issues to the preparing of wills. If they cannot help a person, McNeal will refer clients to attorneys he knows in the city.”