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No Longer a Paycheck from Homelessness
September 7, 2002
By McGee

How many of us have sat with friends, family, and co-workers discussing how we are just one or two paychecks away from being homeless? I've had this conversation on numerous occasions through the years. In retrospect, these discussions were half-hearted because I was in control and knew it would never happen to me, I had a good paying stable job, excellent health, insurance, a nice apartment, a good car, some savings, and enough intelligence not to get into a hopeless situation. My only drawback was not having a family support system, since I was raised in foster care. But I was in control. I had a child, I was in control, and nothing would ever put us in harm's way.

But sometimes, life can hand you a hard knock or two. Sometimes you make poor decisions. Sometimes you just run into bad luck.

Two years ago, my son became ill. I took time off from work to care for him, using up all sick and leave time. I dug into my savings to pay the bills, knowing I would be going back to work within the next few months. I never fully realized how fast the savings could dwindle or how long I would be out with my son's illness. Each month I paid every bill on time. I was very proud of that. I knew I was going back to work. I knew all would turn out fine.

I began hearing the news reports, and reading here on DU about the lay-offs around the country, but I felt safe, because I was in a stable profession. I would continue to pay the bills with my savings, my son would recover, and I would go back to work. I would have control.

The economy tanked right along with my bank account, and I got laid off! Though I felt panicky inside, I tried to remain optimistic. I took odd jobs, telemarketing, fast foods, babysat, ironed, even worked the psychic network from home ... yes I was Miss Cleo! Yes, it is a scam, and no I'm not proud of it. But on days off, I'd log on as Miss Cleo for 10 to 16 hours, sometimes longer, and make about 50 dollars more than if I had not. After work from the odd jobs, I'd log on for another few hours to make another 5 or 10 dollars. Before trying Miss Cleo, I was hired as one of those "hot" girls on TV that men would call, but after a half-hour of that, I just couldn't do it. Miss Cleo was easier. That didn't last too long either, being a combination of conscience and the many, many hours of having to be logged on to the system to make so little, while corporate made millions. Even with these jobs, it was hard to pay the bills, car insurance and buy food. We were facing certain eviction, but how do you move, with little income and no money for deposits?

But things began to look up. My son recovered very well, and I found a good job out of state. So we made an adventure out of moving. We packed the car, sedated the cat, and moved! We were cash poor, but I loved my new job, my son loved his new school, and even the cat was happy. The holidays were approaching and we had a lot of hope.

But in one moment, one very sudden moment our world crashed again. On my way to work, while crossing the street, an unlicensed driver in a commercial pickup truck hit me. Oh dear God, what will I do now?

It's nearly a year later, and though I am recovering, I am in constant pain. I have limited use of my left arm; I can barely walk, even using a cane. My neck, my back, my lower back, my hip and my right leg go into painful spasms constantly and I lose the feeling in my right leg. My mind is foggy; I have a limited attention span from the pain and from not being able to sleep more than 2 hours at a time.

I have an attorney. No-fault insurance is covering the medical bills, and social services is housing and feeding us. We are sheltered in an 8 x 10 hotel room, and given 30 dollars a week for food and necessities. The local Catholic Church brings us canned goods every now and then. I sold the car when I couldn't afford to register and insure it; the state took that money and put it towards our shelter.

Each week, an independent social worker (she does not work for Social Services) takes me to Social Services where I wait most of the day to pick up the weekly hotel rental check. Currently, the state is paying $385.00 a week, or $1540.00 a month for this tiny, tiny room. Each week, I am required to do a documented search for permanent housing. The state will pay $313.00 a month for rent and $27.00 for heat and electricity. My social worker tells me that my allotments are based from the early 1970s and the state has no plans to update. So far, along with the social worker, I have not been able to find permanent housing for us. I did apply for Section 8, but have not been called in for an interview, and may not be called for another year.

The state has a lien on any settlement I may receive since I have filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. I really don't expect to see much of any money, just knowing after the lawyers and the state are reimbursed, there won't be much left over.

In the meantime, I seem to be in a constant struggle with one entity or another. I applied for lost wages with the no-fault carrier, but when the no-fault carrier contacted my employer to verify wages, my employer ignored each request for information for 3 months. My lawyer intervened and finally my employer filled out the paperwork stating they had never heard of me. Once again my lawyer intervened, and my employer received a second chance to fill out the paperwork, and when they did, they told the no-fault carrier that I had been fired! My lawyer called the employer and asked, "you do know that this is not coming out of YOUR insurance, don't you?" Finally the employer understood, but they locked themselves into this statement and can't or won't recant. So, now, I have to have another attorney familiar in employment law, to subpoena the employer and their documents. I am stuck in corporate hell.

If I could only get the back wages, my son and I could move on with our lives, find a little apartment, an old car, and at least be able to buy fresh groceries, and live with some dignity that Social Services tries to rob me of each and every week.

Social Services. If you only knew. Since I'm in their office every week without fail, I have endured and witnessed the rudest, demeaning, nastiest of nasty, inhumane, coldest, most cruel human beings that walk the face of the earth. Yes, the workers of Social Services. I understand they don't have the most desirable job, and I understand they are suspicious of each person who walks through their door, but there is no excuse for disrespect.

Most people I see applying for help are there because they need help. I don't see many freeloaders. A high percentage of them have little education and seem trapped in their world. I have an education and am trapped in my world, but I have an edge. That edge, I believe, is my hope for the future and being able to articulate concerns to the supervisors of the workers I encounter. Believe me I have had many battles with these people to the point of having to have a legal aid attorney to intercede on my behalf. But all of us are there crying out for just the basic needs of life.

When a single parent or guardian of a child applies for temporary assistance, that person is required to fill out an application for child support enforcement - if you don't you will be denied assistance, this information is then automatically sent to the child support enforcement agency. Each time I inquired with the child support services regarding my case, I was told that Social Services had not forwarded my information, they said they could not open the case without the authorization of my assigned case worker. Each week I'd ask my case worker about this, and each time he would tell me the paperwork was sent and resent to child support services. Finally it took outside intervention from a lawyer at legal aid to force the caseworker to file the papers to have the case opened. I am impressed with how fast the child support enforcement agency found my son's dad, and sent him a court summons. The court date is set for this month

My assigned caseworker is notorious for losing or misplacing paperwork, and then accuse me of not submitting my documents. It doesn't happen once or twice, but often. Each week, I'd hear others with similar complaints, and some of these people have anger management concerns whereby the police are called, and they are removed from the building. I am a calm person by nature, but even I start to unravel.

When you initially apply for Social Services, in the intake packet there is a voter's registration card to either register or decline to register to vote. It is required to fill this out and turn it in, no matter whether you register or not. As I was new to the state I registered to vote under the Democratic ticket. But I did not receive my voter's registration card in the mail. Last week I requested another registration form during my weekly office visit. A worker told me that they do not have them. I reminded the worker that the registration form is included in with their intake packet, and could I please have one. She said "oh that, that is only for statistical purposes, you'll have to call the county to find out how to register to vote." "Wait a minute" I said, "I distinctly remember signing for voter's registration". She said, "doesn't matter, we do not send them in".

While visiting the state's Democratic web site I find that the Department of Social Services is part of the Voter Registration Program. This truly frustrated me because I have twice been unable to register through Social Services.

I have since called the county's election office for a voter's registration card and an absentee ballot for the November election. But my experience indicates to me that there is a problem within the registration process. I do not know if both experiences with Social Services are just my bad luck, and/or their worker is ill informed. I do know that it is extremely alarming, in light of my knowledge of the presidential election fraud in Florida, SCOTUS, and many other incidences around the country. Am I now a disenfranchise voter? It's a right of all citizens to be given the opportunity to vote no matter what their economic or social standing may be.

Our life is about doing without. My son would love to have a school book bag, shoes that fit and bike. It kills me because I cannot give them to him. He doesn't even complain. What I wouldn't do to order him a pizza. We both would love to taste meat, fruit and vegetables; instead we eat pasta, pasta, pasta, and more pasta. In fact we're dining on pasta tonight! Have you ever been so hungry and not want to eat because you can't stand the thought of eating (pasta) again? I once loved pasta.

Our life is also about appreciating what we do have. My son is healthy, and in good spirits. The cat is just as psychotic and sweet as she ever was. I am optimistic about the future. I know it's there somewhere, but to be honest, I just don't know when it will happen.

Someone gave me this computer. A police officer gave my son a Gameboy. A neighbor provides the cat litter.

Why am I writing this? This is life as an American citizen who has paid and will repay back into a system that makes little sense. I am a hardworking citizen who woke up in a nightmare, and sadly my son is in this nightmare. I ask why the government can find money to front an illogical war when children are going hungry. I ask why are our children left behind. I ask why is corporate getting a hand slap or pass, when my heart aches as my son tells me "I'm hungry, mommy" I ask why our system isn't run with honor and dignity. I am writing this because I know there are countless others who are or will be in the same boat, and I know how they feel.

I am a DUer. I am here every day. I laugh and cry and moan right along with you. Sometimes you even answer my posts, but not usually. I worry about the economy, Iraq, corruption, voter fraud, just like you. I even wear a tin-foil hat!

I try to believe I live a normal life. But I do not. I try to think I am in control. But in this system I am not. I have moments of sadness, loneliness, and worthlessness. I yearn for the good old days. I wish I would have made different decisions. I wish a lot of things. But this is my life - no longer just a paycheck from homelessness. For I am already there.

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