Equal Justice Works: Graham Bowman expands health care rights to Chicago homeless youth

This is a guest blog post from 2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow Graham Bowman, sponsored by Pfizer, Inc. and Jackson Lewis P.C.  He is currently working to ensure that homeless youth have access to health care services at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  Below he highlights a few of his accomplishments and illustrates how he has impacted the Chicago community.

“Where did you spend the night when the temperature was well below zero?”

This was the question that I tend to ask, when coming across individuals like my recent client, who had no home and was stuck outside in freezing temperatures.  My client was grappling with severe injuries, surviving on the streets of the windy city of Chicago that night.  The homeless youth had not received treatment of any kind and was not even taking basic medication to deal with the extreme injuries caused by the cold, which were at risk of infection.  My client desperately needed antibiotics and pain medication immediately.

Left: Equal Justice Works Fellow Graham Bowman (’13) and Emily Werger, Drop-in Coordinator for Casa Corazone at La Casa Norte, one of the legal clinics sites in Chicago, IL.

When I met this individual at a legal clinic a few months ago, my client was overwhelmed by the dual pressures of needing to navigate both the Medicaid enrollment process and figuring out the best way to access healthcare treatment.  The typical application process for Medicaid would have taken months before this client could access low-cost medicine. Luckily, I expedited my client’s application using the strategies I identified through serving other clients at legal clinics in the area.  The client was awarded Medicaid immediately, and I’m happy to say this homeless youth got treatment and is no longer at risk of a fatal infection.

Such experiences during the first months of my Fellowship at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) deepened my understanding of systemic poverty, making me a better advocate and lawyer.  Homeless youth have the best chance of achieving long-term stability and success when they receive treatment for chronic conditions contributing to homelessness.  With the support of CCH and their many partners throughout Chicago, I created three legal clinics at shelters for homeless young adults under the age of 25 throughout Chicago.  At these clinics, I help homeless youth by guiding them through the process of enrolling for the Medicaid Expansion so they can obtain health care services.  Additionally, I address both legal and non-legal barriers homeless young adults face when obtaining health care.

This type of work extends beyond the court, as I found myself communicating the needs of my clients to a wide range of state-level policymakers.  I was able to lead a lobbying project, drafting and introducing state legislation that would expand the right for unaccompanied homeless minors to consent to their own health care in Illinois.  As a voice at the Illinois Medicaid Advisory Committee meetings and other Medicaid policy working groups, I will continue to advocate for a Medicaid enrollment process that is more accessible to homeless youth and other policies that will expand access to lifesaving care.

Many youth I serve have lingering health issues left untreated because they only became eligible for health insurance last year.  They often tell me they are unsure how to get coverage or where to go for treatment.  At the legal clinics, I’ve helped dozens of homeless youth gain access to health care and other public benefits.  I assist them with enrollment, using best practices for working with homeless youth that I’ve identified over the past few months.  If a client is denied coverage or has medical bills, I represent them in an administrative appeal to ensure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

I am extremely proud to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow and grateful for the opportunity to ensure that the health care services under the Affordable Care Act reach one of our country’s most vulnerable populations: homeless youth.  My Fellowship has reinforced my conviction that it is possible to create real, lasting change.

Want to join Graham and other Fellows across the country helping close the justice gap? Learn more on how you can become an Equal Justice Works Fellow and about our other programs here.