January 10

Portland to start legal aid service for homeless

Officials plan to announce the establishment of the free clinic today.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Shelter attendants set up mats to accommodate homeless people at the Oxford Street Shelter in Portland. The city is starting a new legal aid clinic to help the homeless establish stable housing.

2013 Press Herald File Photo/Gordon Chibroski

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U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey speaks during a news conference for the Maine Homeless Legal Clinic at Portland City Hall Thursday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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He told a story of one homeless man in New York who couldn’t find work because of an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear in a California court for marijuana possession. He lacked the resources to travel to California to get it cleared it up, and nobody would respond to a homeless man’s phone call.

But his volunteer lawyer made one phone call to the California prosecutor for that jurisdiction and the warrant was recalled and the charge dismissed.

“It’s not a liberal or conservative thing,” Zainey said. “That man now has a job ... He’s no longer homeless.”

The American Bar Association selected Portland as one of the cities in which to expand the program because it has the infrastructure, both in legal talent and in social service agencies, to make it successful, and the help is needed, an association spokesperson said.

Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street, said the need for programs that help people get back into housing is urgent, and that the city’s homeless population – 475 were staying at shelters in the city on Wednesday night – overwhelms the capacity of existing shelters and even overflow shelters.

“Navigating the legal system is a daunting challenge that will be relieved by a clinic on site at the Preble Street Resource Center,” he said. “We are excited about this new partnership with volunteer attorneys, connecting people who might need just a little help to get them out of the shelters and back on their feet.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:


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