Longer a Paycheck from Homelessness
September 7, 2002
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
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
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