LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – It’s a typical Thursday morning. Volunteer attorneys are standing outside the elevator on the second floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse, waiting for tenants facing eviction, so they don’t have to face a judge, alone.
The Tenant Assistance Project started with volunteer attorneys representing clients for free when they had time after the eviction moratorium ended, but now there are lawyers available every day.
“Our greatest impact has been in reducing evictions overall,” Ryan Sullivan, who helped start the program, said. “We’ve reduced evictions by about 50% to 60% overall in the last two years.”
Now, they’re taking their focus beyond just preventing an eviction from happening.
“Eviction is a symptom of larger issues, health issues, financial issues and in most cases they need additional services beyond legal,” Sullivan said.
It’s why they brought on Kaitlyn Evans, a student about to graduate with her social work degree, to serve as a resource navigator.
“We are a short-term service for individuals and families,” Evans said. “Our goal is to get them connected with more long-term services.”
When a tenant arrives for their hearing, they’ll fill out a needs assessment to identify what resources they need to be connected to in order to prevent another eviction from happening.
“Food, mental health, domestic violence are things that reoccur every day, employment is another one,” Evans said.
The project identified this as a need because evictions aren’t slowing down. Sullivan said in the last month, 326 eviction hearings have been scheduled in the county. He said there’s been up to 40 scheduled on a single morning. In the last few months since Evans came on, she’s helped up to 100 people connect with resources.
“It’s hard because we need more services on a macro systemic level, more housing and more money,” Evans said. “But it’s also great to see these folks get connected to services they didn’t know existed or see them get something they didn’t think they’d be able to obtain, like food for the week.”
But her position isn’t permanent. Sullivan said they’re hoping to secure funding to continue offering a resource navigator long-term.
If you’re facing eviction in Lancaster County, the city’s website has contact information for the Tenant Assistance Project and steps to take. Click here.
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