Geoffrey A. Schoos, president of the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy, Inc. (RICLAPP), a non-profit legal services organization, recently announced the center will cease operations and close its doors at 3288 Post Road in Warwick effective June 30.
“As a non-profit legal services organization that provided legal counsel and direct services to thousands of low-income, underserved Rhode Islanders, finances were always a challenge,” Schoos wrote in an email to the Beacon.
Over the past two years, Schoos said the center has attempted to obtain funds through the legislature and the judiciary, as well as from private donors and foundations. For several months, he said the center suspended taking new clients until funds could be found to continue operations. There were even attempts to merge with other organizations in an effort to keep the legal services available to those most in need, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
Schoos said the center had been fully functional since moving into the Warwick office in January of 2009, but it would have cost between $130,000 to $150,000 in order to remain open and continue services.
“We tried to serve the underserved, whether due to income, age, or some other reason,” Schoos said during a phone interview Wednesday. “We served 4,000 people in a variety of issues throughout the state.”
Schoos said the center served people up to 300 percent of the total poverty level.
“We recognized early on the need of that middle group that wouldn’t be able to afford traditional legal fees,” he said. “People that did everything right, yet everything went wrong for them. We may have been victims of our own aggressiveness, but there was an unmet need for these services, and if we ignore that, it’s at our own peril.”
Schoos said many studies have shown there are tremendous economic savings as a result of spending a minimal amount of money to put attorneys in courtrooms to help people address these issues.
“If we ignore that, it will result in social and economic issues,” he said.
In addition to serving thousands of low-income Rhode Islanders in a variety of civil legal issues, Schoos said the center was able to assist in the creation of hundreds of for-profit and not-for-profit businesses, many of which are extant today, providing jobs to hundreds more Rhode Islanders.
“I’m proud and happy to have helped over 200 small businesses in the state,” he said. “We organized documents, drafted articles of operation, wrote bylaws, and developed employee handbooks. We were very aggressive and covered a wide swatch.”
Schoos said the center also had a unique outreach program that resulted in bi-weekly or monthly on-site services to members of 10 community and senior centers throughout Rhode Island year-round. Until June 30, the center will remain the legal partner of the Rhode Island Medical Legal Partnership located at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.
Schoos said the center has also enjoyed valuable collaborative relations with various community action agencies, such as East Bay Community Action Program, and local community based organizations, such as Childhood Lead Action Project.
“We had a good relationship with the city [of Warwick], and especially the Pilgrim Senior Center,” he said.
Schoos said he was happy to “nurture and mentor” young attorneys and interns along the way, too.
“We did good work and I’m proud of everybody that worked for us,” he said. “We’ll be missed.”