Budget cuts might close Cleveland’s Legal Aid operation
by REECE RUTLAND, Banner Staff Writer
Jun 23, 2011 | 3197 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Through a series of budget cuts and government funds drying up, many of the area’s nonprofit organizations have been hit hard and are facing cutbacks and possible closure unless support comes from some other source.

Legal Aid of East Tennessee is one organization facing such cuts, and that might mean the closing of their Cleveland office — an office that handled 342 individual cases in the past year for Bradley County’s elderly, abused and low-income.

The organization’s mission is to ensure equal justice for elderly, abused and low-income people by providing them with a broad scope of civil legal assistance and advocacy.

“Many of the people we serve have no other place to turn,” said LAET Executive Director Dave Yoder.

Yoder shared a story about a young woman who began being abused by her husband shortly after her wedding. This had been going on for years, but one night the husband struck the 12-year-old daughter and the mother had enough and sought help from LAET. Through the agency’s help she was granted a divorce, a settlement and most importantly, peace of mind.

“She came back in to visit us later and told us she never realized what it would be like to not wake up hearing the screams of her daughters terrified their dad had come home,” Yoder stated.

But, with funding cuts LAET is looking at closing its doors in Cleveland, meaning those served at the Bradley County office would have to travel to Hamilton County for the agency’s services.

LAET, like most other legal services programs, began with the vast majority of its funding coming from the Legal Services Corporation, a federal agency that distributes funds to legal services organizations throughout the country. This federal funding has been drastically reduced over the years, and like so many other programs, LAET has felt the pressure to find other sources of funding to survive, states the organization’s website.

Yoder says the program is actively seeking support from and in the community. Seeking anything from donations made by citizens to organizations wishing to sponsor it, LAET is striving hard to keep its Cleveland office’s doors open.

“This is a resource that really helps everyone. If you are a business owner with an employee stuck in an abusive relationship and that abusive spouse comes into your business, it’s going to have an impact on your business,” Yoder said.

Currently LAET is seeking support from the Bradley County Bar Association and has grant applications in with United Way, but those support structures could take time, and that is something LAET is lacking.

“We will have to come to a decision by the end of the year. Unfortunately, it might even have to be sooner,” Yoder explained.

Those seeking more information can contact the Cleveland office at 423-479-8577 or visit www.laet.org.