by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

I’ve spent the last few posts discussing systemic victories for our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP) and the medical-legal partnership (MLP) movement – BeHeLP being recognized as an official MLP, MLPs in the news, BeHeLP triggering changes in mental health service delivery. Yet even as we celebrate systemic change, we cannot lose sight of the most important thing: the direct legal services we provide to youth with mental health needs and their families.

In the past year, BeHeLP has had a number of legal victories, big and small. They’re small in that they each affect just one individual or family. But for each of those families, they’re big.

For instance, BeHeLP has helped get traffic tickets and warrants dismissed. For a single parent, a ticket left unresolved can turn into a warrant and cause a suspended license – even if that ticket was obtained during a period of homelessness or illness. Such consequences can prevent parents from driving children to therapy appointments, or worse, lead to incarceration that leaves children without caregivers. BeHeLP has been able to get traffic tickets and warrants dismissed in the interest of justice.

BeHeLP has also helped a number of families fight evictions. Housing instability causes tremendous stress for caregivers, distracting them from supporting children, and homelessness can be a devastating trigger for a child with mental illness who is already vulnerable. BeHeLP has negotiated with landlords to give families extra time to find a new home with no debt owed and a clean record. We have also successfully represented clients in housing court, allowing them to stay at home permanently.

Another year of BeHeLP brings more opportunities for victories, through direct services and systemic change.