By Deidre Williams  |  The Buffalo News  |  12/16/15

Say Yes Buffalo’s free legal clinic program is expanded to fifth location

Say Yes Buffalo has expanded its free legal clinics for Buffalo Public Schools families and communities by adding a fifth location – at the district’s Adult Education Center.

The new site, at 160 Edward St., will be open from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Under the program, volunteer lawyers advise on noncriminal legal issues such as adoption, bankruptcy, divorce, eviction/foreclosure, government benefits, immigration, child custody, child support and housing.

The legal clinics also are offered four days a week at Dr. Antonia Pantoja Community School of Academic Excellence on Mondays, South Park High School on Tuesdays, Dr. George E. Blackman School of Excellence on Wednesdays and East High School on Thursdays. Legal consultations are offered at those locations from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The program was rolled out last school year to a “big response,” organizers said.

In the 2014-15 academic year, 58 local attorneys volunteered. The clinic sites handled 96 cases in total, and 338 families members were served. Most of the cases were family law (42 percent), followed by housing (16 percent) and immigration (9 percent), said David P. Rust, executive director of Say Yes Buffalo.

Into the program’s second year, 73 clients have been assisted already, said Robert M. Elardo, chief operating officer of the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, or VLP, a partner in the program. For the last 31 years, VLP has provided free civil legal services to low-income people and smaller not-for-profit organizations.

Buffalo School Superintendent Kriner Cash said the value of having a way to navigate legal issues that stand in the way of personal progress is priceless.

“I thank Say Yes on behalf of our families for their recognition of this need, and for their willingness to remove yet another obstacle that can impede quality of life,” Cash said. “This is an important and vital social service for our students and their families.”

In addition to adding the new site at the Adult Education Center, the volunteer lawyers now are using the district’s Language Line Solutions, a telephone system offering interpreters to bridge the language gap with non-English-speaking families. So far in this academic year, Language Line Solutions has been used 19 times by Arabic-, Karen- and Spanish-speaking families.

Buffalo families have access to the clinics through a partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools, the VLP and law firms including Barclay Damon, Gibson McAskill & Crosby, Phillips Lytle, Hodgson.

Russ, Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, and Harris Beach. Access to the legal clinics is by appointment or walk-in.

“We are excited to expand the program in our second year,” Rust said. “The partnership accessed the need and was able to react to it by offering the new site. We are very proud to partner on such a worthy project.”

Launched in 2012, the Say Yes Buffalo partnership include the school district, the City of Buffalo, Erie County, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, the District Parent Coordinating Council and more than 100 other funders and community-based organizations.