by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
Happy New Year to all! It’s good to be back at to work at our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP).
This past week, I found myself standing beside my client, a mother of children with mental health needs, in housing court. We had achieved a good legal outcome for her family, but it wasn’t a money judgment, or even the right to live permanently in their home. We had simply bought them time. She and her family would have to move, but not right away.
Buying time sounds like a hollow victory. But for a low-income family that cannot afford rent, extra time can be the difference between plunging deeper into hardship and moving toward healing and stability.
What do I mean? Let’s take the example of a client like the mother I accompanied to housing court. A few extra months without rent lets her pay her bills, feed her children, and maybe even start saving. It gives her children time to apply for more intensive methods of mental health care, such as Wraparound Treatment and Full Service Partnership, that come with ‘flex funds’ to help pay for future move-in costs and ‘parent partners’ to help navigate challenges. Extra time allows a mother with special needs, like a history of addiction or exposure to domestic violence, to seek out family-friendly programs with supportive housing and treatment. It leaves time to plan the children’s transition to a new school and child care.
All of this is particularly true in a Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership, where clinicians and case managers are already on call to connect the family in transition with mental health treatment and case management. In our BeHeLP clinic, extra time is even more valuable, because there are more hands on deck.
This new year is a chance for at least one family to start over, with more time, more resources, and more hope.