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Community Health Law Project to Celebrate 30th Anniversary at NJSBA Event
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Community Health Law Project (CHLP) and New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) will celebrate CHLP’s thirty years of service to New Jersey residents with disabilities at a special event on April 26 being held at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.
“The Community Health Law Project makes a big impact every year in helping people with issues involving disabilities, shelter, income, access to health and human services as well as preserving the rights and entitlements of these individuals,” said CHLP president and executive director Harold B. Garwin, Esq.
“I am very proud of our staff nearly one-third of whom have been with us for over 20 years. This consistent and experienced group has benefited clients tremendously, not only through their institutional knowledge and experience, but also in the way they look at things in a broad sense and make changes to help the client population,” Garwin added.
“We are proud to show our appreciation for the Law Project’s successful stewardship of what began as a demonstration program of the NJ State Bar Association,” said NJSBA President Wayne J. Positan.
In 1976, at the height of the deinstitutionalization movement, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation of New York City funded the American Bar Association to create a nationwide legal advocacy program to help people with mental illness and developmental disabilities residing in the community. The ABA’s Commission on the Mentally Disabled funded seventeen such programs from around the country, one of which was the Community Mental Health Law Project, as it was then called.
In January 1977, the Law Project’s four staff members opened an office in East Orange to serve Essex County clients recently discharged from psychiatric hospitals. Garwin remembers the days when their only furniture was an aluminum table and paint cans to sit on. With $80,000 in funding from the ABA, NJ State Bar Association, the New Jersey Department of Human Services, and the Schumann Foundation, the Law Project’s initial modest goal was to serve twenty new clients a month. By its second year, its budget had grown to $300,000, its staff to twenty-five employees in three counties, and clients served to over a thousand.
Now, three decades later, the Law Project’s $5.2 million budget supports sixty-five staff members operating out of eleven offices in nine counties. Every year, through representation and brief service, it assists approximately 8,500 low-income people with mental, physical, and developmental disabilities. It has also brought about systemic change through litigation, advocacy, and coalition building. The results: the outlawing of exclusionary zoning restrictions on group homes for people with disabilities, legislative reform of onerous psychiatric lien laws, a new mandate for affordable, accessible housing and much more.
“We are very fortunate to have staff that love the clients and will do anything for them,” said Garwin. “Three of the original four people who started are still working here, and the fourth person has worked on and off for 16 years. This continuity and dedication have permitted us to expand throughout the state with eleven different offices in nine counties. The Community Health Law Project has grown from four attorneys in 1976 to an organization with a statewide presence serving all disabilities throughout the state.”
The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice. Visit the association’s website at www.njsba.com.
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