We want to take a moment to reflect on our blessings and the challenges we are witnessing as we reach the end of 2021, a year that has flown by so fast.
Our mission has always been to ensure that everyone has help facing their legal issues. The need has become more pressing with the rise of unemployment, evictions, family law issues, probate issues, debt, and more.
CARPLS and the legal aid community in Chicago and across Illinois have continued to diligently work together to ease some of the legal fallout for vulnerable community members. CARPLS partnered on new projects, expanded longtime projects and created new pathways for people to find solutions during the pandemic.
We are grateful to our community of support, including donors, staff, funders, organizational partners, and clients.
Below you’ll hear from our staff on our 2021 highlights and what we’re looking forward to in the New Year!
“2021 was a year of immense growth for CARPLS. Not only did we hire many new staff members, we also expanded our longtime and newer project and programs to help more people in need. We introduced the Virtual Municipal Court Advice Desk in October of this year, making sure that people could access these resources from wherever they are in Cook County. CARPLS also now operates five hotlines locally and statewide serving a wide range of constituents: the CARPLS hotline, the Early Resolution Program, IL-AFLAN, New Leaf Illinois and Eviction Help Illinois, which in combination received over 200,000 calls in 2021. We are also partners with COVID HELP Illinois, an online resource where Illinoisans can access answers to the most common legal questions during the pandemic.
We know that further legal challenges for residents of Cook County and Illinoisans are imminent. The good news is that we weathered the storm during the pandemic and know how to move forward. We have a team of more than hardworking, empathetic, and competent attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff who bring their diverse perspectives and education to break down barriers to access to justice.
CARPLS is fast approaching an important benchmark of 1 million legal consultations with more than 974,000 as of December 2021. We will reach this milestone early next year.
2021 is coming to a close, but the legal needs do not. In 2022, we promise to hit the ground running once again to make sure that no one has to face their legal issues alone.”
-Al Schwartz, Executive Director
“The legal issues caused by the pandemic are constantly changing over time. Earlier in the crisis we were able to calm clients’ concerns because many legal actions were on ‘hold’ and government money was helping clients navigate their problems. But now, many of those safeguards are gone, and situations that have been on hold are coming to a head for clients. As the front door to legal advice and legal resources, CARPLS is going to be challenged again as clients now really have to face these problems that were deferred for so many months. This year we have put a lot of resources and processes in place, so we are ready to help as many clients as we can when they really need the help.”
-Pat Wrona, Director of Legal Services
The Racial Justice Committee at CARPLS had a highly productive and introspective year. We celebrated diverse communities throughout the year with music, poetry and other presentations for the staff. We also defined who we are and the communities we want to serve. CARPLS located funding to eventually have a staff member assist us with community engagement. We will end the year with planning actual work in the community, predicated on safe, healthy conditions for all involved.”
-Geneva Brown, Staff Attorney on the New Leaf Illinois project
HOUSING & DEBT RESOURCES
“It’s been a challenging year for tenants facing eviction, as well as for small mom-and-pop landlords, trying to negotiate their way through the maze of all of the new developments in housing law in 2021. From services ranging from Howie the Housing Bot to personalized telephone counseling, my hope is that we can continue improving access to resources that help save people’s homes and livelihoods.”
-Karla Chrobak, Supervising Attorney
“It has been so exciting to co-supervise the Cook County Legal Aid Housing & Debt Program (CCLAHD) and be a part of a program that has provided over 4,000 referrals to litigants experiencing eviction, foreclosure, consumer debt and tax deed issues. It also has been so rewarding to be a part of the Early Resolution Program In-Court Program that has helped litigants to settle consumer and eviction matters.”
-Ashlee Highland, Supervising Attorney
“CARPLS’ work has been more important than ever due to COVID, with more people needing legal assistance in handling everything from evictions and collection actions to unemployment benefits. The New Leaf program is striving to reach more people with Illinois cannabis charges and convictions so that we can help them expunge those records to help improve their lives. We continue to look for new ways to spread the message about this free service to people throughout Illinois.
CARPLS is one of the few places people can turn to for free legal advice on almost any legal topic. As we move into the new year, there is no doubt that our services are needed by more people than ever, as the pandemic continues causing additional financial hardships for many. It makes me feel good to know that we have a great team of talented lawyers and paralegals at CARPLS that really care about our clients, and are working hard to help people understand and resolve their legal issues.”
-Peter Honigmann, Supervising Attorney of the New Leaf Illinois project
“I experienced a year of great satisfaction in being able to let people know they can have a second chance and a clean slate with expungement. The New Leaf program has yet to reach its full potential. I look forward to serving more clients in 2022 and giving them the good news of having expungement possible.
-Geneva Brown, Staff Attorney on the New Leaf Illinois project
SPANISH LEGAL SERVICES
“Para nuestra comunidad (for our community) those three words mean so much to me. As a proud Latina, I have often thought about what I could do to assist those that have faced many of the same struggles my parents, family and friends have endured. My parents migrated to Chicago from Puerto Rico in the 50’s and met on the West Side of Chicago. They fell in love, got married and had five children. They did not know English and had only completed the fifth grade. I often served as their translator when accompanying them to appointments. This was my first experience in understanding the importance of giving a voice to those in need.
This past year CARPLS launched an initiative to serve our Hispanic community in a thoughtful comprehensive way. We created an “En Español” page so that Spanish speaking clients could easily access information about our services. We began a partnership with Taller De Jose where we can provide legal consultation to those living in the Chicago area. Recently we have begun promoting our services to the Hispanic Community and are embarking on a new era where we hope to provide compassionate caring sound legal advice to the Hispanic Community of Cook County.”
-Patricia-Cintron Bastin, Supervising Attorney of Spanish Legal Services and Paralegals
“Having started with CARPLS and the IL-AFLAN Hotline during 2021 has been very rewarding and fulfilling to work with all of the people here, learn and grown, and consistently bring much needed services to those who are often marginalized or outright forgotten in the American jurisprudence process.”
-Stephen Paul, Staff Attorney at CARPLS, LTC(R), JAG
“During the time that court operations first closed and were remote, the CARPLS Domestic Relations Desk moved quickly to get up and running to assist the clients who were being served with initial family law cases (i.e. divorces, allocation petitions, parentage petitions). We ended up collaborating with JusticeCorps to see how they could assist with meeting clients.
Now we have a continuous flow of clients being assisted by JusticeCorps. Clients continue to need assistance with understanding how to navigate their cases in light of these new court operations.
And finally, during remote court operations, many clients not only faced language barriers but also barriers/limitations in navigating court cases due to limited technology. The collaboration with Taller de José helped with this.
I am proud at how quickly the Domestic Relations Desk moved and got on the ball with helping clients navigate their cases.”
-Maria Mora, Supervising Attorney