My project to provide legal advocacy to veterans in need of housing, income and health care stability began in 2015 with the support of a two-year Skadden Fellowship. I am now a staff attorney at MHAS, and my work is now funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While the structure of the project and its service locations have changed over time, what has remained constant is the partnership that gave birth to the project—a collaboration between MHAS and Mental Health America of Los Angeles’s Operation Healthy Homecoming (OHH). Our collaboration is an expansion of the behavioral health-legal partnership (BeHeLP) model through which MHAS’s legal services are integrated into the OHH case management services setting.
OHH is a rapid rehousing program that provides housing case management to both homeless veterans and veterans at risk of losing their housing. The men and women served by OHH staff are veterans from all wars, with many having served in Vietnam. In addition to facing homelessness, they experience health and stability challenges that aging in poverty can bring. The OHH case workers valiantly strive to identify and solve barriers to clients’ stability.
Through our collaboration, I have been honored to apply my legal advocacy skills to problems that could not have been solved solely through case management and mental health services. Veterans OHH and I have partnered to serve include those who have been homeless for decades, burdened by debt, oppressed by warrants and citations they couldn’t resolve and discriminated against for housing, both by landlords and public housing authorities. In addition to negotiating with landlords, appearing in court, and appealing adverse decisions by governmental agencies, I have provided training and information to help the OHH case managers develop their own advocacy capabilities. This allows me to leverage my time to serve more clients more efficiently. The results are more warrants dismissed, more housing vouchers saved, more reasonable accommodations granted by landlords and more consumer matters resolved.
I am grateful and honored to be part of this behavioral health-legal partnership with OHH, and I look forward to growing the project with OHH staff as together we strive to maximize the services we bring to veterans in need.