CLEVELAND — On Friday, News 5 teamed-up with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and United Way's 211 HelpLink system to address issues with evictions and unemployment compensation, taking hundreds of calls during a live phone bank.
Attorney Anastasia Elder with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cleveland said her agency has been fighting back against growing evictions with its "Right-To-Counsel" program.
Elder said the initiative was launched in July and provides free legal representation to tenants who are facing eviction in Cleveland Housing Court.
Elder said tenants must meet a few basic requirements to qualify.
“The goal of right-to-counsel is to avoid homelessness," Elder said. “Someone should get legal counsel if they have at least one child in the home, meet certain federal poverty guidelines and live in the city of Cleveland.”
Elder said it's crucial tenants quickly respond to a court summons and communicate with their landlord if they are facing eviction or are having difficulties paying their rent.
“So when a court says that you should show up for something, you should show up. There is a lot at stake, specifically whether or not you’ll have a home tomorrow,” Elder said. “Have open communication with their landlord, or reach out to legal aid for some legal advice, reach out to those rent assistance agencies, because there is help out there.”
Nancy Mendez, V.P. of Community Impact with the United Way of Greater Cleveland, said her agency saw a record number 95,000 calls for help between March and October due to the ongoing pandemic and a high amount of job loss.
There were 5,000 calls for food, another 3,000 extra calls for rental assistance, as well as help with unemployment, Mendez said
“Our calls at some points have tripled,” Mendez said. “A number of folks are very anxious and have no idea how they’re going to be able to pay next month's rent. We are really worried about the long-term effects this going to have on individuals and in particular their ability to cover basic needs like food and rent.”
Mendez said Cuyahoga County had some 20,000 eviction over the past year, but that could dramatically increase if the federal government doesn't approve a second COVID-19 stimulus package soon.
“Anywhere from a potential 50,000 to upwards of 80,000 potential evictions in Cuyahoga County, if the government doesn’t intervene,” Mendez said. “So we really do need Washington, or government, to continue to look at funding these programs that are literally keeping people in their homes right now.”