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Paralegal with Lived Experience Helps Improve Client Access to Public Benefits

Paralegal Beth Warner Beth Warner (left), a paralegal with Legal Aid Chicago, joins the Street Medicine Team every week to help connect clients to public benefits such as food assistance.

Every Monday, paralegal Beth Warner joins The Night Ministry's Street Medicine Team as it takes free medical care, survival supplies, and more to those living on Chicago's streets. Working alongside the team, Warner helps clients enroll for public benefits such as Medicaid and food and cash assistance.

Warner works for Legal Aid Chicago, a local organization that provides free legal services. Their presence on Monday morning Street Medicine runs greatly reduces the already heavy workload of the team. But that's not all they bring to the table.

"Beth has lived experience being homeless, so they were able to relate to our clients from the start," said Kyanna Johnson, Lead Street Medicine Outreach Worker.

In fact, Warner is a former client of The Night Ministry. "I was impressed with how they treated me and with their sincere interest in wanting to help me and others who were homeless. I am happy to now be in a position to help The Night Ministry in their work," Warner said.

With their lived and professional experience, Warner is well aware of how difficult it can be for those experiencing homelessness to access the benefits they need. "During the pandemic, for many, it could be impossible because the offices are hard to access in person," they said. "The wait times for assistance on the phone are so long that most people who are homeless could not get through."

But Warner streamlines the process for clients and staff. "Whenever we have Beth out with us, we can sign our clients up for benefits right away," said Johnson. "They don't have to wait a week or figure out how they're going to get transportation to somewhere they can apply."

Once they are enrolled, public benefits can have a big impact on the lives of Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. "What I am hoping is that our work empowers clients, uplifts them, and brings them some of the independence and stability that they deserve," said Warner. "I have seen right away the difference that our outreach makes." 

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