HAMMOND | The Hammond Legal Aid Clinic hit a milestone this month with the 3,000th client being served.
The clinic, which offers pro bono legal services to Hammond residents meeting certain economic guidelines, is in its eighth year.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., who began the clinic as one of his first initiatives when he took office, financially supports the clinic every year with his office's discretionary gaming revenue.
The clinic's director, Kris Costa Sakelaris, said the clinic handles a wide range of services from tenants needing security deposits back from landlords to helping grandparents obtain guardianship of their grandchildren.
“They are the working poor, and they live among us and people don't understand that,” Costa Sakelaris said. “When you look at what the poverty level is, and if you're making minimum wage, you are living below the poverty line.”
Costa Sakelaris said many of the cases the clinic works involve seeking child support payments from noncustodial parents. At times, people ask her what that means to them, and Costa Sakelaris said she shares the story of their child attending school with a classmate who is not getting child support or likely breakfast in the morning.
“If they are sitting in the same classroom, that kid can be disruptive. He's not getting breakfast, so if you're not dealing with the root problems in your community, then you're really not being fair to your community,” Costa Sakelaris said.
McDermott acknowledged the clinic's milestone at last week's Mayor's Night Out event.
“It's really heartbreaking the cases you are going to see,” McDermott said.
The clinic used to be a city department before it became a separate nonprofit. The clinic will receive $270,000 of gaming money this year, according to City Controller Bobby Lendi.
Throughout the years, the clinic has been a source of controversy at the Hammond City Council. In January, Councilman Bob Markovich, D-at large, attempted to pull a claim sending funding to the clinic, but the action did not gain a majority of council support.
Costa Sakelaris said she understands that there's always going to be criticism of the clinic.
“But you know what? It's (McDermott's) initiative and if a new mayor comes in, he may decide not to support it,” Costa Sakelaris said, “but don't ever say the need is not there.”