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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Hillsborough veterans can attend a specialized court to clear court debts for minor legal issues

A man stands at a podium before a panel of judges in a conference room that is not a courtroom.
Courtesy
/
Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court
At Veterans Outreach Court in 2022, a man presents his case to Judge Daryl Manning. He was one of 18 veterans assisted.

While Veterans Outreach Court was originally designed to assist low-income veterans, Judge Daryl Manning said the need has since grown. The deadline to register is Friday.

Editor's note: Registration for this event has been extended since the publication of this story. The new deadline to register for veterans is Friday, Oct. 18.

On Nov. 3, a satellite building for the veteran’s hospital in Tampa will transform into a courtroom for the day.

Three Hillsborough County judges will convene a specialized Veterans Outreach Court designed to help veterans quickly resolve minor legal issues and forgive, or reduce, court debts.

“This is our opportunity to say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and not just in word alone,” Judge Daryl Manning said.

Along with Manning, Judges Kimberly Brennan and Michael Williams will exclusively settle misdemeanor issues, like outstanding traffic tickets or overdue court fees. Other cases, including felony warrants or those already pending in Veterans Treatment Court, will not be heard.

Judge Manning, who is a veteran himself, helped launch the program in 2016.

In its first six years, 229 veterans were assisted, totaling 930 resolved cases and nearly $250,000 in forgiven court debt, according to court data.

Manning said that while the program was initially designed to assist low-income veterans, the need in the community has since grown.

“Initially, we did start with only low-income veterans. But we see that there's a need, even with middle class individuals that are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “So, we have some [veterans] that have no income, we have some that do have income.”

READ MORE: More Florida and Tampa Bay families are living paycheck to paycheck

Manning encouraged all veterans – even those who don’t know of any active legal matters involving them – to register online. Ineligible participants are notified by phone.

“It's surprising, sometimes a veteran didn't even know that they had a ticket from 2013 that went into collections, that has doubled in size and is at a 40% rate of interest,” he said.

The Veterans Outreach Court event will be held at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital Primary Care VA Annex, at 13515 Lake Terrace Lane. In addition to the 13th Judicial Circuit and Hillsborough County Veteran Services, participating agencies include the county's state attorney's office, public defender's office and clerk of court.

Veterans must register by Friday, Oct. 13, at hillsclerk.com.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.