Guest post by Gwen Holst, law student at UCLA Law School, who participated in MHAS’ summer internship program. Student interns’ activities include conducting client intake interviews, drafting SSI appeal briefs, assisting veterans to resolve warrant and ticket issues, and doing research and advocacy in special education and fair housing.

My first glimpse into MHAS was through a volunteer opportunity sponsored by one of my classes at UCLA. I was fortunate to return to MHAS the following summer, where I was able to more deeply contribute to MHAS’ mission of serving individuals in Los Angeles living with mental disabilities.

This summer afforded me the opportunity to interact with clients on many levels. In person, I met our clients by participating in our monthly clinic in Pasadena, tabling at the US Vets Village in Long Beach with our Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps attorney, attending appointments with our Skadden Fellow in San Pedro, and assisting a staff attorney with our HUD-sponsored fair housing trainings across Los Angeles. Under my attorneys’ supervision, I also helped counsel numerous clients who contacted our intake line on matters ranging from SSI/SSDI applications, LPS conservatorship appointments, eviction notices, and education rights.

Throughout the summer I also applied my legal research and writing skills to real world problems. My projects allowed me to develop the legal analysis for cases involving transportation as a related service for students with special educational needs, evidentiary standards needed to terminate the Section 8 housing benefits of an individual who was accused of violent criminal activity, and legal protections for a veteran who had been pressured into signing up and incurring substantial debt for an ineffective medical treatment. At MHAS I further expanded my experience advocating for individuals with mental health disabilities by resolving issues and tackling bureaucratic challenges in a number of the many systems our clients rely on for supportive services.

As a summer clerk at MHAS I also had the opportunity to observe several of these systems at work. The clerks toured the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, the largest jail in the world that also has specialized programs to help those inmates with mental health disabilities. We also sat in on specialized court hearings that focused on conservatorships, unlawful detainers, and juvenile delinquency. In addition we learned about broader public interest law issues by participating in trainings at the ACLU, LA Law Library, and LA County Bar Association. I am thankful for the diversified, hands-on, and humbling experience I had at MHAS this summer.