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Whatever it Takes: A Legal Clinic for the Homeless Story

Lisa Pearlstein, Director of the Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless project, met a new client named Karen and her six-year-old son at one of our clinics at a homeless shelter in September. Lisa learned that Karen’s son was severely autistic, and as a result was very difficult to keep safe when walking outside. Shopping for groceries was an impossible task for Karen, who needed to keep her hands free so she could grab her son if he began to bolt into the street.

Karen (left) with Lisa Pearlstein

Karen (left) with Lisa Pearlstein

Karen was told by her son’s therapists that Medicaid would turn down her request for a special-needs stroller because her son was “ambulatory.” It would have been a long, drawn-out fight with Medicaid over the matter.

Instead, Lisa applied to the Children’s Aid Society/NY Times Neediest cases fund on Karen’s behalf for the $500 heavy-duty stroller, as well as a list of toys that the boy’s occupational  therapist had said would greatly benefit him.

The request was granted. “Karen picked up the stroller, and she is absolutely ecstatic!” Lisa said. “She left me five messages on my voicemail saying how happy she and her son are right now. She got me on the phone this morning, and she was crying. She does not fear for his safety. He enjoys riding around in the stroller. She can go food shopping.”

Children’s Aid/Neediest Cases paid for the educational toys as well, and that was just the beginning. Lisa teamed up with Cathleen Clements, Director of Legal Advocacy at Children’s Aid, to advocate for an immediate decision on Karen’s application for supportive housing based on her son’s other health issue, which is that he’s allergic to cockroaches found at many shelters, which triggers asthma. Lisa and Cathleen felt strongly that the City wasn’t moving fast enough while a child’s health was being compromised by his living environment. Through their efforts, the Department of Homeless Services approved the application, and Karen and her son will be moving into their own place very soon.

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