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Lawyers volunteer services to keep families "Home for the Holidays"

Keeping families from becoming homeless over the holidays is the idea behind a program offered by central New York attorneys this time of year.

There aren’t necessarily more evictions approaching the holidays, but Michael Balanoff of Legal Services of Central New York says losing a place to live this time of year is just more difficult, especially when children are involved. That’s the idea behind the “Home for the Holidays" program, which brings attorneys from all over the region to Syracuse City Court in the days leading up to Christmas.

Starting today, Balanoff says attorneys will look for people who aren’t represented by attorneys in eviction proceedings, and try to put them off.

"The warrant of eviction is basically stayed, or stopped, at least for a couple of weeks, if no deal can be made otherwise," Balanoff said. "And the judges like the program, too. Nobody wants to be sitting there looking at a family that might be out in the street, or otherwise disrupted, during the holiday season.”

Balanoff says the “Home for the Holidays” legal assistance project is mainly for low-income families.

“You try to get the parties together and explain, look, we’re going to see the judge, and if we can’t resolve it we’re going to ask the judge to delay everything, and during that time there’s something we can do for everybody that’s useful, so that January 2, 3, 4, they’re not faced with, you've got to get out anyway," Balanoff explained. "Maybe there’s a way to resolve things. Most landlords, I think they just want to be paid.”

The lawyers have been volunteering their expertise like this over the last decade, and help between 50 and 75 people each holiday season. Often, they’re able to help landlords and renters come to some kind of deal to prevent eviction altogether.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.